HAMDPEN, Maine — A task force made up of regional health workers and law enforcement officials brainstormed Friday about how to get the word out about the dangers of underage drinking.
Using the Internet to find out about parties with underage drinking, creating a pamphlet for parents and schools that includes a crime tip line and getting the word out that there are ways to anonymously report underage drinking are a few ideas the group came up with.
“I feel we’re more successful when we hear tips,” Kirsten Webster, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the Sebasticook Valley Healthy Community Coalition and task force leader, said.
The Penobscot County Underage Drinking Task Force is made up of law enforcement officers from Maine State Police, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and county police departments, along with representatives from Bangor Region Public Health and Wellness, the state Office of Substance Abuse and Healthy Maine Partnerships of Penobscot County.
At the table on Friday were Lincoln Police Chief Bill Flagg, Bangor police Sgt. Cathy Rumsey, Hampden police Cpl. Chris Bailey and state police Sgt. Sean Hashey.
“Information is what we live on,” Hashey said. “It’s key. I think people want to be anonymous.”
He said that is one reason why the State Police Web site has a link to report a crime.
“We’re starting to get more and more on that,” Hashey said. “I’m not even sure people know that exists.”
Once a crime is reported on the site, it automatically goes to the lieutenant on duty in that area, he said. In addition to the Web site, State Police also are in the process of educating officers in alcohol compliance, Hashey said.
“We have a few bars … that we’re having issues with,” he said.
The task force has used grant funds to pay for parking lot surveillance programs, but that program has not been successful, those at the table reported.
“We know it’s going on,” Rumsey said. “It’s just catching them [that’s difficult].”
Bangor did catch a couple of teens on prom night, she said, adding that those under age 21 who have been drinking can now be charged with illegal possession by consumption.
“If I can prove you’ve been drinking, I can charge you,” she said.
The task force members also discussed using the Internet to find out about parties and creating a pamphlet.
“I remember a woman was frustrated that her kids were intoxicated [and asked], ‘What do I do?’” Flagg said, adding it would have been nice to have information with resources to give her.
The pamphlet could also be distributed to schools, members said. The information could also have a tip line, so parents and school staff can report incidents.
“One call can stop a huge party from happening,” Willow McVeigh, program coordinator for the River Coalition, said.
Alcohol is responsible for more than six times the number of youth deaths compared to all other illegal drugs combined, a press release from the task force states.
“It’s all about helping each other out and building positive relationships to make our community a safer place,” Webster said in the statement.
The anonymous “report a crime” tip line on the Maine State Police Web site can be accessed by going to maine.gov/dps/msp/criminal_investigation/tip_line.html.
The task force will meet again later this summer or early fall. They are hoping to include local residents in the meeting.