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Cracking down on underage drinking: anonymous tips can save lives
COUNTY — Anonymous tips are helping local law enforcement and other community members crack down on underage drinking, reports Chris Davis, facilitator of Healthy Oxford Hills, a project of Stephens Memorial Hospital.
Calling in an anonymous tip to police for situations involving teens and alcohol only takes a minute and may, in the end, save someone's life, Davis suggests.
"We do intervene in certain circumstances," confirmed Oxford County Sheriff Chief Deputy Hart Daley.
The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office accepts underage drinking and other crime tips on its website, www.oxfordcountysheriff.com, which Daley said the Sheriff's Office relies on heavily.
According a Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, nearly 90 percent of teens in Oxford Hills perceive little risk of getting caught drinking, Davis reported.
One of HOH's objectives, according to HOH office administrator Barb Deschenes, is to increase awareness of what's being done by local police to combat underage drinking.
"Let's all do our part," Davis said, pointing out that "the legal drinking age is 21 for good reasons."
In the past year, there have been several interceptions made by law enforcement in Oxford Hills involving alcohol and teenagers, Chief Deputy Daley reported.
In January, an anonymous tip let the Sheriff's Office know about an underage drinking party being planned via Facebook, reported Daley.
"Which was fantastic," he said, of the tip. "It ... pointed us in the right direction.
"We researched that social media and obtained the names of the individuals who were organizing this [party] and the details behind the organization of it," he said. Those details include how the individuals planned to pull off the party without the homeowners' knowledge.
“The parents were actually going to be leaving for the weekend on a trip,” Daley said, but cancelled it after being notified by police that a party of a "substantial size" was being planned at their home.
Daley was unable to provide the specifics of the situation, but said that it is a good example of an underage party that, if not stopped, could have had serious or even deadly results.
“The possibility of kids driving drunk and being in accidents … certainly was avoided by that intervention,” he said.
Furnishing a place for minors, allowing a minor to transport alcohol or even throwing an underage drinking party "are risky situations, that, if not intercepted are ripe beginnings for crashes, sexual assaults, and law suits," Davis wrote in a press release.
She gives an example of the recent situation in Falmouth where an underage drinking party was not intercepted by police and resulted in serious consequences.
Hosting a drinking party for an underage baseball team cost the family thousands in restitution fees and Victims Compensation Fund, 100 hours of community service, as well as a letter to the community via their local newspaper, taking responsibility for their actions, Davis explained.
According to Davis, the parents described their case as "finding themselves in a situation that spun out of control." She believes examples like these can be avoided altogether simply by raising awareness.
Daley also recalled an interception made by the Sheriff's Office at Camp Waziyatah in Waterford where its two owners were charged with hosting an underage drinking party for 25 to 30 minors. According to reports, one minor was arrested for furnishing alcohol and 15 others received civil summonses for alcohol possession.
An anonymous informant told police about the party, allowing them to get there within a reasonable time to stop kids from getting behind the wheel or drinking too much, Daley said.
He said every time police break up an underage drinking party "could be a life saved."
Many times, Daley said, local students will hear from classmates of underage drinking parties and report it to police or they will notify a teacher who will make the call.
"They are trying to do the right thing to promote a healthy community," Daley said.
Sergeant Skip Mowatt, school resource officer at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and a member of the substance abuse task force in Oxford Hills, said underage drinking is definitely a problem in the area.
He said students often come up to him to tell him about a potential party, in which case he would contact the Sheriff's Department or another local police agency to investigate the situation.
"It's not uncommon for kids to be talking to me," he said, especially about underage parties.
He said they may not know what they are talking about, per se, but "a lot of the time, around here, the rumors are true, especially when they are coming from kids."
Daley said educating young students about the consequences of underage drinking is the best way to address the problem.
"It's not just getting a summons for illegal possession of alcohol," Daley explained, as was the case in Waterford.
"If [someone] hosts a party and somebody drives away and is involved in an accident with injury or fatality, the person hosting that party ... is going to suffer criminal charges, and their entire life will be changed forever," Daley said.