Teens portray underage drinkers to help police train

Staff WriterSeptember 18, 2007 

— Police officers rounded up about two dozen teenagers pretending to drink alcohol at a deserted fraternity house Monday evening.

The mock event concluded a day of training for officers on how to better handle parties with underage drinkers.

Trainers gave the high school students iced tea in a Jim Beam bottle, water in vodka bottles and crumpled beer cans to help set the scene in an old fraternity house across from Finley Golf Course. With a radio blasting dance music in an empty dining room, the kids played up the party scene, joking with their friends and clustering in small groups on the back patio.

They scrambled about the back yard, looking for places to hide when the police walked through the house. Seven officers from the Chapel Hill Police Department had the task of finding them all and keeping them on the scene.

The students played assigned roles meant to give the officers a hard time. Parent volunteers pretended to be nosy neighbors and irate parents who wanted to take their kids home on the spot. Other officers observed the exercise.

Within 20 minutes, the officers had the party under control, but Sgt. Scott Taylor saw things his team could have done a little better, like getting into the back yard faster.

The goal is to keep the underage drinkers from escaping -- something that has happened in the past. When police responded to a Chapel Hill party last spring with more than 50 teenagers in attendance, about a dozen were caught and wound up in court. The rest got away.

"We don't want them lying in the woods all night, especially if they're intoxicated," Taylor said. "We're not out here to write a bunch of tickets. The main reason we come is because we're concerned about their safety."

Officers want to prevent intoxicated teenagers from running for their cars, where they endanger the safety of themselves and others.

Four trainers with the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provided instruction to about 30 officers from the Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments. In addition to providing tips on handling large parties, the training emphasized the seriousness of what trainer David King calls an epidemic of underage drinking. King said alcohol overdosing, criminal issues and sexual assaults can follow from underage drinking.

"For far too long, we've turned our heads and not dealt with these issues," said King, who is a retired public safety director from North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, a nonprofit organization started by Chapel Hill mother Dale Pratt-Wilson, invited the trainers to Chapel Hill.

cheryl.sadgrove@ newsobserver.com or (919) 932-2005

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