In recent months, we have heard the cry that law enforcement doesn't care about the rural areas of Columbia County. We complain a lot about non-response to our calls for help to C-COM or 9-1-1. But who or what is to carry the blame for this?
Imagine for a moment that you are a property owner in rural Columbia County with a complaint about loud music and noise because of a party at a neighboring property.
Or imagine that you are the officer on call and proceed to investigate the complaint to find that there is validity to it. There is a rave party going on with several hundred people in attendance. You and possibly one available deputy are expected to break the party up and arrest or cite those who are breaking any number of laws. You have no idea of how much alcohol and or drugs are there, or if any of the participants are armed. You contact the property owner and are told to leave because it is private property. Unfortunately, you have no choice but to leave because you cannot enter the property legally.
All you can do is hope than no one leaves the party impaired or that no one at the party is injured. Now the people who reported the activity think that the police and Sheriff's Office are doing nothing, again. As a taxpayer you decide to vote against any appeal for funds to adequately respond. The result is a further deterioration of the ability to serve the residents of the county.
Now the property owner who hosted the site of the party knows that they can get away with breaking the law. So the parties continue during the summer months.
Is it the fault of law enforcement or the Columbia County commissioners who have developed an ordinance that cannot be enforced requiring a permitting process for events, but putting the attendance minimum for the requirement at 500 people? Can you imagine an officer standing outside the property counting the people entering so they can legally go and enforce the law? Or is it the property owner who is hosting the party?
With property ownership comes responsibility - for those attending the function, for damages to neighboring property and ultimately for any loss of life caused by impairment they contributed to by allowing the service of alcohol or drugs. If they charged any admission to the event, they assume a lot of liability as well.
Is it worth it to endanger not only those attending the event, but law enforcement, and also the drivers and their families who must share the roads with those who attended the event? The consequences and stakes are too high.
If you are a property owner, think twice before agreeing to host such an event. The risks and costs are too high for everyone involved, including you. If someone dies, it becomes your responsibility for that death because you provided the location for the party.
Voters, you need to think about consequences as well. We can complain all we want, but we need to be part of the solution, by providing resources that will allow us to have adequate well-trained law enforcement. Yes, it does increase your taxes, but for the cost of a latte a week, peace of mind becomes really low cost.
We lost one good police chief earlier this year. Can we afford to lose more law enforcement personnel because we cannot afford adequate coverage due to budget cuts? I would hate to be the lone officer on call to respond to a large function of impaired citizens.
Take responsibility, please. Do not host events with alcohol and other substances available. Do not furnish alcohol to underage youth. If you want to have a large party, hire trained security to monitor the event. It could very well prevent a senseless death or serious injury to someone you love.
And next time a law enforcement levy is on the ballot, vote yes so that we all are protected and served.
- Lynn Chiotti, MADD Columbia County, St. Helens