Local law enforcement are cracking down on underage drinking with warm weather and graduation parties on the horizon.
To help combat the issue, Target Zero Thurston County is targeting house parties and conducting compliance checks throughout the county this summer with the goal of keeping young impaired drivers off the road.
Eighteen fatal crashes involving drivers under the age of 20 have occured in Thurston County between 2007 and 2011, 10 of which impairment was a factor, according to Jerry Noviello of Target Zero.
The first party intervention patrol, a program based on a system used in Pierce County for the past six years, convened last weekend and involved six officers: three Washington State Patrol troopers, two Sheriff’s deputies and a Yelm police officer.
Police arrested 10 people ranging in age of 17 to 20 at a house party in the Lacey area Saturday night, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Guy Gill.
The 10 are being accused of minor in possession. Breathalyzer tests revealed blood alcohol levels ranging between 0.024 and 0.203.
“If any of these individuals got into a vehicle and drove, best case scenario they would just be facing DUI charges,” Gill said. “Worst case scenario, they would get into a collision and senselessly hurt or kill themselves or someone else.
“Our goal is to change behavior, giving these individuals the resources to do what will not only make a difference now, but for the rest of their lives.”
Instead of booking the 10 straight in jail, the program hosts an intervention of sorts, Noviello said.
“We can have a larger impact on their behavior, the youth’s behavior, if we have these meetings with them during their moment of arrest,” Noviello said.
The meetings include a chemical dependency professionaland are held outside of a law enforcement facility.
In the case of last weekend, the 10 arrested were brought to the Thurston County Public Health office, Noviello said.
“There they had a trained professional and counseling to talk with youth who are experiencing substance or alcohol or drug abuse,” he said.
If under 18, those who go through the program are then asked to call their parents so they can also be informed about the available programs.
Parents who supply alcohol to minors will also be at fault. Parents are not at fault in the case of a house party being thrown while they are out of town or away from home, Noviello said.
The one exception in Thurston County is the city of Rainier, which has a social hosting ordinance that fines the home owner or host of the party for having an underage party on their property, Noveillo said.
Target Zero Thurston County is also working with school resource officers and school officials on locating parties that could have underage drinking.
Most of the parties are found through noise complaints.
“We have them all throughout the county,” Noviello said.
The hope is to catch some of the problem at the source with stores who sell alcohol to minors.
“We are going to investigate sources of alcohol right down to the store and there will be absolutely zero tolerance for those who supply it or facilitate,” Gill said.