Saturday, October 21, 2000

Crackdown on teen drugs, drinking urged

Group presses police to adopt mandatory referral

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Teens who get caught with drugs or alcohol won't get any breaks if an idea being pitched in Warren and Hamilton counties takes hold.

        Under a plan called mandatory referral, instead of some police officers sending the kids home to their parents for discipline, the youths would automatically end up a number in the criminal justice system.

        They might not be arrested and charged; that would depend on the circumstances. But the teens would be ticketed to juvenile court to be assessed for substance abuse and other problems, then offered counseling or treatment.

        It's a way, proponents say, to attack teen substance abuse as a way of reducing adult crime, which is linked 80 percent to 90 percent of the time to drug and alcohol abuse.

        The uniform policy also would allow authorities, for the first time, to track youths so their history would be known should they get in trouble later.

        The initiative is being promoted by the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati.

        “If we can make an impact at this level, maybe we don't have to build jail cells later on at the adult level. We need to put our assets at the juvenile level,” said Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver, who co-chairs the law enforcement committee for the drug coalition.

        He unveiled the proposal Thursday to about 120 school officials, counselors and police officers in Warren County who gathered to discuss the development of a countywide approach to attack teen substance abuse. The half-day summit was hosted by Warren County Juvenile/Probate Judge Mike Powell, who announced that he will start a drug court for juveniles next year.

        Mr. Oliver also is urging police to implement a mandatory arrest policy for adults who host teen parties where drugs and alcohol are present.

        Those ideas got a mixed reception, especially from police, who questioned how the mandatory referral policy would work in the event of a teen party where dozens of youths are present. Some said it would involve too much manpower.

        “I can see a severe problem there on making mandatory arrests or taking information from each child” to cite them, said Sgt. Jim Adams of the state patrol's Lebanon post. “Kids scatter like cockroaches when you turn the light on.”

        Mason Chief Ron Ferrell said he supports the idea. But, like others, he questioned the logistics of large parties and expressed concern over how such a policy would affect the public's perception of officers.

        “Police departments already are accused of harassing kids,” he said.

        Lt. Col Richard Biehl, a Cincinnati assistant chief who co-chairs the drug coalition's law enforcement committee with Mr. Oliver, said he's hearing similar concerns in Hamilton County.

        Only a handful of more than 40 police departments there already have mandatory referral policies in place for possessing alcohol, he said. Others are either taking the teens home to their parents or taking away the alcohol and sending them on their way, he said.

        “I sense a reluctance to adopt this. Some have said we don't want to go there because we don't want to limit an officer's discretion,” Lt. Biehl said.

        “But very few parents, and very few law enforcement officers have the competency to do a formal enough assessment to determine if there is a true problem there.”

        Police chiefs associations in both counties have agreed to discuss the proposal, but neither Mr. Oliver nor Lt. Col. Biehl has received any guarantees.

        Mr. Oliver is hoping they'll endorse the idea.

        “Status quo is not an option,” he said.


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