KENNEBUNK, Maine — Police Chief Bob MacKenzie is heading up a task force to fight an issue close to his heart: underage drinking.
The brains behind the idea of “Point of No Return,” a powerful film documenting the dangers of drinking and driving, MacKenzie is now coordinating York County’s newly established Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws Task Force. The task force will examine ways to reduce underage drinking as well as alcohol-related deaths, injuries and other safety consequences.
“Underage drinking continues to be an issue. Every year we hear of tragedies that have happened around the state,” MacKenzie said. “It’s these things that are bothersome to law enforcement. We want to make it different. We know it’s a problem; we want to do everything we can to help.”
According to statistics from the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition, 11 percent of high school students binge drink, meaning they consume five or more drinks in one sitting. In 2008, Maine had 46 fatalities from accidents involving alcohol.
The task force, which met for the first time in February, is comprised of municipal, county and state law enforcement officials, York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery and all three York County Healthy Maine Partnerships.
The task force is one of eight throughout the state of Maine receiving $30,000 in federal funds through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to address underage drinking.
“It’s up to me, from a law enforcement perspective, to bring other departments on board and come up with different things we can do to make a difference for underage drinking,” MacKenzie said. “There has been interest from every department in York County. Getting everybody on the same page is a big help.”
In February, MacKenzie gathered with representatives from more than 20 York County law enforcement stakeholder groups for a brainstorming session, exploring initiatives like a county-wide Text-a-Tip program, funding party patrols of officers assigned to areas known for underage drinking parties, and training for officers on enforcement and prosecution of alcohol related violations.
The task force is also considering creating a liquor enforcement team made up of law enforcement officials who could respond to large-scale underage drinking parties, assist in investigations and conduct alcohol compliance checks at retail establishments, bars and restaurants. They are also looking at a restorative justice approach for juveniles charged with alcohol-related offenses, which would provide assistance to avoid similar offenses in the future.
“We can impact them through giving back to the community, instead of just paying a fine,” MacKenzie said.
Members of the task force will be meeting throughout the year to work on these initiatives and others.
Statewide, “Point of No Return,” created in 2010, produced by Kennebunk’s Video Creations and featuring Kennebunk High School students, has gained positive attention, being distributed to schools throughout the state last year. The film, along with a zero-tolerance policy by Kennebunk Police, has had a positive effect on underage drinking in Kennebunk, MacKenzie said.
“It definitely seems to be down,” he said. “I like to think we have made a difference and I do believe we have. I want to keep the traction going. If we make a difference for one person, it’s worth it.”