Party’s over for minors in Thurston County

A new party patrol system is seeking to intervene with youths who use drugs, alcohol

ckrotzer@theolympian.comJune 30, 2013 

The party ended early for dozens of Thurston County teens when new emphasis patrols aimed at curbing underage drinking provided a real-world wake-up call.

A Tumwater house party, filled with more than 50 partiers younger than 21, was busted by Thurston County’s new party intervention patrol last month, resulting in the arrest of 31 underage drinkers.

After obtaining a search warrant, officers found beer, hard liquor and evidence of binge drinking games throughout the Filly Court home. The 53-year-old homeowner was arrested for furnishing alcohol to minors.

The teens were bused over in flex-cuffs — handcuffs made out of durable fabric or plastic tie-wraps — to the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services office on Lilly Road where they were processed and received optional counseling.

They were later picked up by their parents or legal guardians.

It was the third party intervention patrol implemented this spring at the peak of graduation season, resulting in the detainment of 45 underage drinkers ranging from 15 to 20 years old with preliminary breath tests registering blood-alcohol levels between 0.02 and 0.215 percent.

FOLLOWING AN EXAMPLE

The intervention patrol is mirrored after what Gloria Mansfield Averill, Pierce County Target Zero manager, calls “an attitude changing” program that began in Pierce County six years ago.

The rising numbers of young drivers killed behind the wheel while under the influence and youths showing up at the emergency room suffering from alcohol poisoning spurred the need for an intervention.

The result was a program that combines law enforcement, chemical dependency counselors and the prosecutor’s office, in hopes of deterring alcohol and drug abuse before it becomes a habit.

“The approach changes both the attitudes and the behavior of the kids and the parents,” Mansfield Averill said. “Before we were doing party intervention patrol, they used to believe it was pretty difficult to get caught.

“They don’t think that way anymore.”

There were 26 deaths involving young drivers under the influence on Pierce County roads during the five years prior to the program. That number has decreased by half since the party patrols began six years ago.

Impressed by the results of Pierce County’s program, Thurston County Target Zero pushed for a similar model and so far has launched three party intervention patrols this year thanks to a $36,000 grant from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The grant also covers costs for compliance checks at local stores.

HELPING YOUNG DRINKERS

Of the 45 underage drinkers detained during the three patrols, 14 were juveniles. The rest were between the ages of 18 and 20, according to Jerry Noviello, Thurston County Target Zero manager.

The average juvenile preliminary breath test was 0.072 percent, while adult underage drinkers had an average test of 0.076 percent. The highest juvenile test was 0.118 percent. One 18-year-old had a level of 0.215 percent.

Such high numbers at young ages are indicators of a larger problem to counselors.

“Even if we can delay their use to when they turn 21, we know that really decreases their risk of addiction,” said Joe Avalos, chemical dependency program manager for Thurston and Mason counties. “We know through research that age of initiation for drinking or using drugs is a bigger prediction than genetics.”

The party patrols help fill a void left by a lack of health classes in middle schools, according to Jackie Yee, clinical supervisor with True North Student Assistance and Recovery Services in Olympia.

While health classes are offered in Thurston County’s high schools, it’s often too late. According to Avalos, the average age of first use is between 11 and 13 years old.

“We are waiting until they are 15 for any kind of education,” Avalos said.

Considering the target of the patrols are underage drinkers, there is some leeway in how the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office handles the cases.

“Everything is a case-by-case evaluation,” said Wayne Graham, deputy prosecutor. “I think the general premise is that with this particular emphasis, the goals of the prosecutor’s office is more about intervention than it is about criminal consequences.”

All of the 14 juveniles detained in the Tumwater house party were referred to the county’s diversion process through Community Youth Services.

The diversion program combines counseling and community service to help teach young offenders how to make better choices.

Graham said 70 percent of the juvenile court’s first-time offenders go through the diversion process. If successfully completed, none will come out with a criminal record.

“Kids make mistakes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have a criminal history,” Graham said.

That doesn’t mean the underage drinkers busted during party patrols will just receive a slap on the wrist, especially if they have prior history with law enforcement or related violations at school.

Target Zero plans to check on the participants after 90 days to see how effective the program was. None of the young people involved in the interventions was available to interview.

“It’s not just a blanket, but a lean toward noncourt resolution,” Graham said.

Graham said the way teens party compared with 20 years ago has upped the ante on intervention, especially with hard alcohol now available in grocery stores.

“Back 20 years ago, if you weren’t in the right place at the right time to hear about the party, you didn’t even know where it was,” Graham said. “Now with cellphones and social media, everybody knows about the parties — there is nobody left out anymore.

“Now a big party could have 25 kids with hard liquor, pharmaceuticals and marijuana and the kids can hit four or five parties in a night, which means they are driving.”

DEADLY CONSEQUENCES

Thurston County had 18 fatal crashes involving drivers younger than 21 between 2007 and 2011. Of those, 10 were impaired — under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or methamphetamine.

“Kids are driving to these parties, and our goal is to reduce the chances of them getting back in the car and leaving after consuming alcohol and/or drugs,” said Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill. “Nobody can predict when a collision will occur. It only takes one bad choice, and unfortunately sometimes you won’t get a second chance.”

So far, the Olympia, Lacey, Tenino and Yelm police departments as well as the State Patrol and Sheriff’s Office have participated in the patrols.

Those working the party intervention patrol spend the night patrolling areas known for parties and respond to any noise complaints or other calls that could be a sign of underage drinking.

Often an officer in an unmarked car will check the area first.

If there are signs of probable cause, such as juveniles with alcohol in their hands or other obvious signs of underage drinking, the team will call in for a search warrant from the on-call judge.

With a warrant in hand, the patrol meets to determine the best strategy to approach the scene. In many cases, those at the party opt to run when law enforcement shows up.

That was the case with two parties found in Capital State Forest in which everyone fled before officers could make contact.

The patrols often don’t end until 6 a.m., but to those involved, the time is worth it.

“A lot of those kids are going away to college, and hopefully this is an experience that will help them make good choices,” Yee said. “All the intervention is, is the hope they get something from it to make them do things differently.”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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