Police continue battle against underage drinking

Juvenile officer finds incidents not isolated

In a span of 45 minutes, a weekend drinking party involving Craig teens turned frightful. A girl who was having a good time with friends and drinking high-proof liquor ended up face down on the floor and frothing at the mouth.

Her friends were panicking. Some of them were crying. The girl remained unresponsive. Her friends, not wanting to incriminate themselves, but still worried for her safety, simply covered her up with a blanket.

Before the night was over, the teen-ager was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. The concentration of alcohol in her blood was more than twice the legal limit for a DUI.

It's an incident that's symptomatic of an underage drinking problem that Misty Schulze deals with regularly. As a juvenile diversion officer with the Moffat County District Attorney's office, Schulze reads police reports that confirm such incidents aren't isolated.

Schulze also works with Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, which will receive a $35,000 grant April 1 to continue programs to prevent underage drinking in Moffat County.

"Our ultimate goal is the safety of the community, especially our youth," Schulze said of Grand Futures. "Kids may feel like we're ganging up on them when they're just trying to have a good time, but if kids could just listen long enough to the safety message, they'd realize that the drinking age is 21 for a reason."

"Kids have no idea what they're doing when they saturate their brains with shots of vodka and Crown Royal," Schulze said.

She points to studies that show that alcohol can cause developmental problems in the budding teenage brain.

And children who begin drinking in their teens are more likely to become alcoholics, Schulze said. She cites a paper written by Michael Nerney, an expert in adolescent chemical dependency. According to Nerney, children who begin drinking by age 14 have a 53 percent risk of becoming alcoholics. Those who don't start drinking until they're 20 have only a 10 percent chance of becoming alcoholics.

Alcohol is the most commonly used intoxicant in both high schools and middle schools in America.

In Moffat County, binge drinking on hard liquor has become popular, Schulze said.

Hard liquor, rather than beer, shows up in 90 percent of the police reports she reads, Schulze said.

Thirteen of Schulze's 40 February diversion cases are teenagers who got in trouble for alcohol possession.

Many of them reach the system after being contacted by officers who were out patrolling specifically for underage drinkers. The program pays off-duty officers to patrol Craig and Moffat County in search of minors in possession of alcohol.

The continued operation of that program will be paid for by the $35,000 Underage Drinking Prevention Grant that was awarded to Grand Futures by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

It also will fund a media campaign called, "Parents Who Host Lose the Most."

Beginning this spring, Grand Futures will use the money to publicize why providing alcohol for minors is a bad idea. Grand Futures is scheduling the campaign to coincide spring activities like prom and graduation, when drinking parties abound, and are often hosted by parents.

Parents can be held liable for consequences of a drinking party held at their homes, Schulze said.

Some parents think it's responsible to host a drinking party as long as they "take everyone's keys."

Grand Futures is trying to convince parents that it's irresponsible and also against the law.

Another of Grand Futures' programs helps track kegs of beer to the parties where they may end up. Liquor stores now require kegs to be registered, and buyers have to sign a form that links them to the keg's tag number.

If the keg is found by police at an underage party, the buyer can be prosecuted.

"The keg registration program is a way of tracking the purchase of alcohol that minors may end up drinking," said Cindy Biskup, Grand Futures' director.

The top of the registration form makes purchasers aware that contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison and fines up to $750,000.

The program has already tracked confiscated kegs to the buyers, Schulze said.

Grand Futures partnered with local law enforcement to put the program in place, and all of the liquor stores in town agreed to participate, Biskup said.

An attempt to require the registration statewide was shot down, Biskup said, so "it is a big deal that our liquor stores are willing to cooperate."

The grant Grand Futures received also will pay for another round of compliance checks, during which law officers and youthful volunteers will conduct stings to make sure that businesses that sell alcohol continue to check IDs and refuse alcohol to minors.


Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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