Despite busting two drinking parties and handing out 36 citations for underage drinking within the past two months, said the amount of underage drinking in the community remains generally consistent with other years.
The issue caught the attention of some community members a little over two months ago when 21 teenagers, ranging in age from 15 to 18, were cited for underage drinking at a party on Hollywood Avenue on Oct. 1. Of the offenders, 13 were from Whitefish Bay.
On Nov. 18, police busted another party, this time on Santa Monica Boulevard. Underage citations were given to 15 people, ages 16 to 17. At least five of the offenders were Whitefish Bay residents.
“The numbers for this year will be up,” said Lt. Ronald Stefanski of the Whitefish Bay Police Department, “but there’s no real trend.”
Stefanski said the department finds out about underage drinking in a variety of ways. He said officers often become suspicious when an individual leaving a residence is stumbling or acting incoherently. Officers also take notice when an unusual amount of traffic is seen coming in and out of a home. Other times, police discover parties when responding to noise or parking complaints by neighbors.
Stefanski said it is not uncommon for other teenagers to tip off the police. He said it is often done out of revenge by people that were not invited to a party or were kicked out of one.
The legal ramifications for underage drinking vary depending upon age. For those under 18, the municipal court determines the verdict. Offenders could be ordered to take an alcohol assessment class, participate in community service, or pay a fine, but Stefanski said it is often a combination. He said those ordered to take the alcohol assessment class will usually face smaller fines because payment is also needed to take the class.
Punishment for those over 18 is a fine of $681. If those underage adults choose to host a party, the penalty could be even steeper.
“Adult responsibility starts at 18,” stressed Stefanski.
Besides their own citation for underage drinking, Stefanski said hosts are also responsible for every other underage citation. That means a possible $681 fine for each underage drinker. With a party of 15 people, that could amount of more than $10,000.
But teenagers face more than just legal consequences. They also face consequences at school, such as suspension from athletic or extracurricular activities. Stefanski said officers remind students that, by choosing to drink, they are letting their team or organization down.
Students also take those consequences seriously. A story from the October edition of Tower Times urged students to become aware of the consequences related to underage drinking, especially from the school standpoint, where both students and parents sign codes of conduct before students can participate in any sports, clubs, or activities.
Whitefish Bay High School Associate Principal Amy Levek said the school takes a number of proactive measures regarding ATOD, or alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
“Significant, age-appropriate curricular emphasis is placed on issues of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use beginning in elementary schools and extending through high school,” She said.
Levek also said the Whitefish Bay School District has an ATOD Steering Committee that brings in speakers or special programs. The committee determines what issues are important by having students participate in Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.
“In addition,” said Levek, “we have a positive connection to local law enforcement through our School Resource Officer, Dave Hryniewicki, which has allowed us a partnership aimed at creating safe schools for kids.”
In conjunction with the school, Stefanski said the department organizes presentations at the middle school. He said the school resource officer also speaks to incoming freshman classes about the effects of underage drinking. The subject is also touched upon in search and seizure presentations for the junior and senior classes.
The school district is also holding parents accountable. On Monday, in his weekly newsletter to parents, Whitefish Bay High School Principal Bill Henkle shared part one of a two-part series that explains the school’s reaction to alcohol, tobacco, and drug use-related incidents. Part one explained the consequences for school based infractions. Part two, which will cover the consequences for incidents outside of school, will be included in this coming Monday’s Parent Link.
In the newsletter, Henkle said parents understand the significant pressure students face from not just friends, but society in general, to use drugs and alcohol.
“All the more reason, then,” He said, “to reiterate with your children the consequences that may be suffered in hopes the temptation to be in any way involved with alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs may be entirely resisted.”
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