Friday, June 01, 2001

Butler targets drunken teens

Police to focus on graduation parties

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County will allocate $30,000 for police overtime during the next four weeks to crack down on underaged drinking and teen drunken driving.

        County commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday to provide $8,000 for the sheriff; $5,000 each for police departments in Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield and West Chester Township; and $1,000 each for Oxford and Fairfield Township.

        The money will be funneled through the prosecutor's office.

        This trial program, called Operation Teen Watch, will enable those police departments to do a better job of monitoring teen drunken driving and underaged drinking stemming from graduation parties, Commissioner Mike Fox said.

        “We hope this will have a positive effect,” he said. “In the next three or four weeks, there will be scores of teen-agers celebrating graduations who will engage in behavior that could take their lives.”

        Mr. Fox said the idea for the program developed from a recent conversation he had with police and Greg Stephens, head of the county prosecutor's juvenile division.

        Commissioner Chuck Furmon sided with Mr. Fox in the vote, and Commissioner Courtney Combs voted against funding the program.

        Mr. Combs said that although the intention of the program is commendable, he questioned its effectiveness in preventing teen drinking and crime. He said it fails to go to the root of the problem — a lack of parental care and control.

        “This isn't the way to go after these problems,” Mr. Combs said. “If the parents can't control these kids, we can't control them.”

        He said it will be difficult to measure the program's results, and the county budget is too tight to justify the expense.

        Prosecutor Robin Piper said to obtain the money for Operation Teen Watch, the police departments need to send a letter to his office indicating they want it.

        The program will allow police departments to place more officers in the streets during the evening, when graduation parties occur, Mr. Piper said.

        Stores selling alcoholic beverages will be monitored more closely for sales to teens, and more police will patrol the streets for teen drunken drivers, he said.

        “We want to find out who is supplying the alcohol to underaged drinkers,” Mr. Piper said.

        Police also will be paying special attention to hotels and motels, where teens or their parents rent rooms for graduation parties, he said.

        “We have had complaints of serious vandalism at these parties,” Mr. Piper said. “That kind of activity has to stop.”

        Megan Newsom, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lakota East High School, praised the county for the program.

        “They can't stop teens from having the parties,” she said. “I think it's a really good idea to have more police officers on the streets.”

        Mr. Fox dismissed Mr. Combs' concerns about the program's cost.

        “In the scheme of things, $30,000 isn't going to make or break this county,” he said.


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