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June 10, 2014

Combating teen drinking in Southern Indiana

Two-day exercise held to help police respond to underage drinking

FLOYD COUNTY — A New Albany nonprofit agency is working with area law enforcement agencies to improve responses to calls of underage drinking.

MeriBeth Adams-Wolf, the executive director of Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education Services, Inc., says Southern Indiana teens are among the nation’s most susceptible to alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

Our Place organized efforts to bring together law enforcement officers from Floyd, Clark, Scott, Harrison and Crawford counties to participate in training exercises Monday and Tuesday to learn how to best respond to functions where underage drinking is taking place.

The “party dispersal training” was provided by the Maryland-based Underage Drinking and Enforcement Training Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Milltown Police Chief Ray Saylor is one of the many officers who took part in the classroom training and a mock party held at Garry E. Cavan Park in Georgetown.

“I think this training is exceptional,” Saylor said. “We often have calls for underage drinking, particularly in the summertime and during the holidays and after prom parties, graduation, those sorts of things.”

Students from Providence High School and Floyd Central High School volunteered to act as drunken partygoers at the mock party.

“The nice part of this is not only do we have the classroom portion, we have a hands-on aspect,” Saylor said. “And, having the young people involved makes it that much more realistic. It helps us to do a much better job.”

Adams-Wolf and Saylor says underage drinking can lead to more than drunken driving.

“There is violence associated with it. There is sexual assault associated with it, so this enables us to do a better job when we are responding to these types of incidents,” Saylor said. “Our goal is always to keep people safe, and, obviously, alcohol impairs a person’s ability.”

Saylor said having programs that aid law enforcement and increase pubic awareness of underage alcohol consumption can prevent unwanted tragedies.

“The worst nightmare a police officer can have is to go to someone’s home and tell them their child is never coming home again because they have been involved in an impaired driving accident or they have been sexually assaulted because of impairment,” he said. “Those are the nightmares police officers live each and every day.”

Saylor says parents should never act as “social hosts” and allow underage drinking to take place with their consent.

“We call it tough love. Saying ‘no’ is part of being a responsible parent, and young people want rules and structure, and the only people they have to look to for that is their parents,” Saylor said.

Adams-Wolf said the efforts of Our Place and local law enforcement are all the more needed as area Floyd County teenagers are in the top tenth percentile of underage and binge drinking.

She said Floyd, Clark, Scott, Harrison, and Crawford counties are above the state’s rate of underage drinking and that Indiana is often among the states that lead the nation in teenagers who abuse alcohol.

She also hopes Our Place will influence parents who host parties where minors are allowed to drink alcohol.

“This has to happen on somebody’s property. Somebody has to get the alcohol,” she said. “Ultimately, this lets adults know that they will be held accountable, too.”

Adams-Wolf said she hopes community leaders, parents and law enforcement officials will work together to discourage underage drinking and help children stay safe.

“We are hoping through this process that we are supporting parents to stand up to their kids, when their kids say, ‘Hey mom, dad, I want to be one of the cool kids, and I want to have the party and have the alcohol,’” she said.

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Students of Ms. Kitzmiller's first grade class sing and dance in the gymnasium at Grant Line Elementary before heading to their classroom to begin the school year Thursday morning in New Albany.

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