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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

12/17/02 Enforcement is key on teen drinking


Enforcement is key on teen drinking
December 17, 2002

The arrests of a mother and daughter who hosted a party at which police allege alcohol was served to Greenwich High School students signal a new interest by authorities in dealing with a problem that has been discussed for years: teen drinking. Those in Greenwich who have spoken out about the issue should support stricter enforcement, as well as the stalled community substance abuse program that seems to be gathering fresh momentum.

Our town sometimes needs to be shocked into action. The problems with underage drinking that occurred during the GHS homecoming celebration may have provided townspeople with the equivalent of a slap in the face. Six girls and one boy, all of them freshmen or sophomores, were suspended by school officials for drinking. Two of the girls, who allegedly attended the party in question, were taken to Greenwich Hospital, where one was treated and released and the other spent three days being treated.

The ages of those suspended are 14 and 15. If that is shocking to readers, consider that experts in town say children younger than 10 are among those who abuse alcohol in Greenwich.

Nonetheless, the situation apparently was so troubling that Greenwich police were able to bring charges against Mary P. Pool, 47, and her daughter, Mary B. Pool, 17, who held a party at their North Street home. They were charged with risk of injury to a minor. The Mrs. Pool's husband, Harry, who was out of town at the time of the party, has said he is sure no alcohol was served at the event and has hired an attorney. Both mother and daughter are to appear in court Friday in Stamford.

Regardless of the outcome, this case raises questions about where the teens got alcoholic beverages and who should be responsible for underage drinking. Police note that too often they lack evidence to charge adults who own the houses where drinking parties take place, even though state laws can make the owners subject to arrest. That's why we have suggested that state officials look into laws prohibiting possession of alcoholic beverages by youngsters, as well as more thorough enforcement of existing statutes.

Making it illegal for people under 21 to have alcohol could have a chilling effect on young people who are asked on college applications whether they have ever been arrested. Colleges around the country are also caught up in efforts to eliminate binge drinking, which has become a dangerous way of life on many campuses.

Of course, heavy drinking isn't only confined to colleges, as the GHS homecoming dance debacle indicates. That's why we're glad to see concerned parents and officials from social service agencies and the Police Department rekindling discussions about the problem. A Dec. 11 meeting to begin to form a townwide coalition could be the first step toward putting initiatives to counter teen drinking back on the community's radar screen.

Over the years, the problem has remained important for some individuals, including many teenagers. Young people who support events at the Arch Street teen center, those involved with the Safe Rides program and members of Students Against Drunk Driving have made clear their concerns. So have the parents who make it a point to know where their teenage children are going and when they will be home.

But too many parents not only turn a blind eye to underage drinking but encourage it. Serving alcohol at a teen party on the theory having them home can ensure their safety is fallacious reasoning, for when the young party-goers leave, any control lapses.

That is why we are glad police are taking harsh steps in the pending case. We would like to think other communities would do the same, for this is a widespread problem. But unless our town, other municipalities and the state begin to address underage drinking with stricter measures, we fear a bad situation will only get tragically worse.

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