Nov 1 2017

Police Chief Advice on Teens: Alcohol, Sex, Parties, and Parent Responsibilities

“Something’s got to change” –

Last week, Captain Chris Monahan and I had the opportunity to attend the Consent Assembly held at the Alan Harvey Theater on the Piedmont High School campus. I had heard about the assembly, which features student actors portraying real-life accounts of teen sexual assault and sex related themes told by former students, and was appreciative to have been invited by a PHS teacher but was not prepared for how impactful the delivery was to be. Standing in the theater, listening to the traumatic experiences of sexual assault that were conveyed by students on the stage, I experienced the hair on the back of my neck standing up and a mix of sadness, anger, and familiarity. These feeling arose from my experience as a former sexual assault detective and with the victims I tried to obtain justice for.

I learned that the assembly has been a tradition since 2006 and had the feeling that as impacted as I felt, the students in the building must have been even more so since it was their classmates they saw up on stage as the conduit for others’ experiences. I also left the assembly asking myself, “Why, with this tradition of impactful delivery, does the Police Department continue to get the reports of sexual assault that it does?” One answer was provided by a Millennium High School student I talked with about the assembly a day or two after. I asked her the same question and the answer she provided was brilliant and simple. She believed the increase in awareness, and the need to do something about it, was the reason I might be receiving more reports. I think she may be right.

Fresh off last week’s high school-wide introspective, two separate parties were held at private residences in town this past weekend, both of which resulted in a high school-aged female being taken by ambulance to a hospital for excessive alcohol consumption. Both heads of household seemingly had the best of intentions and put measures in place that they thought would deal with uninvited guests, prevent alcohol and other illegal substances from being used, and that would generally keep a close eye on activities to ensure a healthy and safe environment. Unfortunately, despite these measures, two young people went to the hospital, and the scary thing is, they got off easy compared to what could have happened. Thinking back to last week’s Consent Assembly, impairment due to alcohol or other substances was a significant factor in the victimization that was depicted.

As a parent, is a party with 40 to 50 kids necessary? If the answer is yes, then be realistic about what you’re inviting. If you are going to allow or host a party with a large number of teenagers, understand that they will more than likely try to bring alcohol or drugs with them. The level of adult oversight at a party goes beyond “just being there”. Depending on the size of the party and number of kids in attendance, multiple adults need to not just be in attendance, but they need to be actively paying attention and be present to observe what’s going on. Talk to your child about the guests they want to invite and take the initiative to manage the guest list. Check backpacks and any containers that are being brought. I understand that these measures may embarrass your child and take you a couple notches down on the cool meter but unless that happens you should expect bad results.

I’ve heard the philosophy that parents want to provide a “safe place” for teenagers to do their thing because “they’re going to do it anyway”, but that reasoning is flawed for the simple fact the kids aren’t going to be staying at the party location. Inevitably they leave to walk or drive home, to a friend’s house, or who knows where. Let me be unequivocal for those parents or guardians who may be of the mind to be complicit with allowing or providing alcohol or other illicit drug use, you will be held criminally accountable by this Police Department. Officers will also be assessing the individual dynamics of parties they are called to and will be using existing city ordinances when appropriate, including the use of administrative fines. We are not taking this stance to be punitive or overly authoritarian. This is about the welfare and safety of this community’s children.

I am working through these issues as well, as I have children and understand the need to allow them to grow, let off steam and learn to deal with real-life, adult, situations. None of us have all the answers on how to navigate these issues in the safest manner, but together, with continued dialog and a sense of purpose, we can get better at helping our teens and each other navigate these dynamics.

Jeremy Bowers, Piedmont Chief of Police

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