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‘Our town, our kids, our problem’

Crook County Underage Drinking Task Force is working to discourage young people from drinking

by: GARY WILLIAMS - Gary Williams is the Crook County District Attorney and the chairman of the Underage Drinking Task Force. He can be reached at: <span id=This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." title="by: GARY WILLIAMS - Gary Williams is the Crook County District Attorney and the chairman of the Underage Drinking Task Force. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." class="caption" width="220" />

You may have never heard of us. We work behind the scenes, mostly. A school administrator, district attorney, undersheriff, police captain, juvenile department director, community coalition prevention coordinators, Commission on Children and Families director, O.L.C.C. agent, private citizens, middle school and high school students, and others. We began in 2001 to enhance effective enforcement of underage drinking laws and to help change community norms that encourage underage drinking.
   We are the Crook County Reduce Underage Drinking Task Force. We don't wear name tags. We don't get paid for our extra work with the task force. We meet on our own time. We have no specific budget, and we don't have a logo or catch phrase. The only thing we have is a strong desire to keep kids alcohol-free and safe.
   Is underage drinking a problem? Absolutely. Twenty percent of all the alcohol sold in this country is consumed by minors. In the most recent Crook County schools survey, 41 percent of 8th graders report that they drank alcohol within the past 30 days. That's substantially higher than the state average. Forty-five percent of 11th graders report drinking within the past 30 days. Again, that's higher than the state average. And we know that the leading cause of death of young people (ages 16 to 24) is alcohol.
   Where do kids get alcohol? Crook County is not much different than other places around the country. Most commonly, they get it from their parents or friends who are older than 21 years of age, or they get it at someone else's party. It should be no surprise, then, that 82 percent of Crook County 11th graders report that it is easy or very easy to get alcohol. Easy access to alcohol is probably the biggest factor in high rates of alcohol use by kids.
   Underage Drinking Task Force members want that to change. We have all seen too many kids injured or killed in alcohol-related incidents. In the past few years, we have developed an underage drinking party telephone tip line (called Dare to Care Tip Line), obtained grants to pay for police training and overtime costs associated with underage drinking law enforcement, sponsored a poster contest at the high school, put ads in newspapers and radio, and created a program called Perks for Clerks, which pays $50 to a retail clerk or alcohol server who reports a suspected Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor case to 911 and an arrest is made.
   But we know we can do more. It's been five years since our last town hall meeting on underage drinking. It's time to hear from middle school and high school students, and their parents, law enforcement officials, school officials and other members of the community, about what we have done and what we can do in the next five years. So we are coordinating another town hall meeting. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 19, 2007 at the middle school. The program starts at 6:30 p.m., and good food will be provided to those who attend. The theme for this community event is "Our Town, Our Kids, and Our Problem." I hope to see you there.