Police have not cited anyone with alcohol offense
October 4, 2009
Steamboat Springs — In the 3 1/2 months since the Steamboat Springs City Council passed the contentious social host ordinance, police officers have not cited anyone under the law. But with school resuming, police officials say it’s only a matter of time until they use the ordinance.
Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said the first option for officers is to cite anyone who provides alcohol to minors with a Class 2 misdemeanor for the offense.
As an example, Rae said that at a party Sept. 16, officers issued nine citations for minor in possession of alcohol. After an investigation, a person was charged with procurement of alcohol for underage persons, the Class 2 misdemeanor.
“If we had not been able to establish probable cause for who was providing alcohol for the kids, and we were at a dead end in that investigation,” the police would have used the social host ordinance, he said.
“Personally and philosophically, holding people accountable for providing the alcohol is a more serious offense,” he said. “However, in those situations where we’re not able to determine who provided the alcohol, the social host (ordinance) is going to come into play.”
Rae said the ordinance is posted at the police department and that officers are aware of the option as they respond to cases of minors drinking.
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“They know that their case follow-up on these MIP investigations is an important aspect of us trying to reduce underage drinking in our community and that they are doing those investigations at every party,” Rae said.
Rae said there have been three times in about the past month when five or more minors were ticketed for underage drinking, and he said with school starting again, he expects to see more.
“There is going to be a time where it comes into play, and I don’t have any doubts about that, especially this time of year with colleges starting up and the number of MIPs” increasing, he said.
Councilman Jon Quinn, who supported the ordinance, said he’s pleased the police have an additional tool at their disposal and that it might be a positive sign that it has not been used.
“Actually, in a lot of regards that may be encouraging because maybe there was enough attention generated around the adoption of the ordinance that it brought to light the problem,” he said.
Even so, Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who did not support the ordinance, said she expected the ordinance to have been used by now.
“It sounded like there was a little more urgency when we were looking to Capt. Rae” as the ordinance was being discussed, she said.
“The good thing is that if the police are able to use different tools or methods to combat underage drinking or drug use, at least we’re not spending money on the social host ordinance,” she said.
Council President Loui Antonucci, who did not support the proposal, said he too expects it to be used more during the school months and near major school events such as prom and homecoming.
“I don’t know that we’ve really had an opportunity to use that,” he said. He said it would take more time to fully understand the role and effects of the law.
“The thing with laws is it takes time to find out what the long-term ramifications are,” Antonucci said. “This is so new, it’s really hard to tell.”
Antonucci said he wanted a provision built into the ordinance to require the council to revisit the law in the next several years, but there were not enough votes to include the provision.
Dervla Lacy, Routt County director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, helped create the ordinance with Rae and other members of the Excellence Project. Lacy said her organization would continue to raise awareness of the law.
“We’re hoping to continue with our partnership with the high school,” she said. “What we were able to do so far is get a brief synopsis of the ordinance in newsletters at the end of the year and at the beginning of this year.”
Grand Futures is seeking grants to continue the education efforts, she said.