By Megan Sando
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Students who plan to party on the first weekend of school can expect an increase of patrol officers looking for parties with underage drinkers.
Statewide law enforcement agencies met Thursday on a lot at Washington and McElroy for a press conference that will start an initiative to ensure alcohol is not used illegally. Officers from the Oklahoma State University Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Stillwater Police Department, Payne County and Noble County spoke about what students can expect.
Chuck Lester, grant coordinator for the OSU Prevention Programs, said strategic planning started a little more than two years ago based on a grant from the Regional Prevention Coordinators, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“It’s a joint effort with the community and law enforcement to help prevent drug abuse,” Lester said.
Underage drinking cost the state of Oklahoma $831 million in 2010. In Payne County, 41 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes were alcohol related. That number is much higher than the state average of 33.6 percent, according to the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
Erik Smoot, senior agent for ABLE in Tulsa, said one purpose of the press conference was to inform people of relatively new laws. A law passed in 2011, known as “Cody’s Law,” is a social host law that makes it illegal to have people under 21 drinking at a party. It states the owner or resident of the home is responsible. Cody Greenhaw, a minor, died in 2004 at a friend’s home where the parents allegedly knew about the underage drinking.
“We are setting the standard for drinking laws earlier rather than later,” Smoot said. “With the start of school, we want to make people aware of social host laws. It’s a community effort.”
Hosting a party with underage people is unlawful, whether it is a minor or an adult. That person does not have to be at the party, either. They may be fined up to $500 and charged with a misdemeanor. If someone is injured or killed, the host can be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of $2,500.
Because parties with underage drinking have gotten out of control in the past, patrol will be increased by at least 25 more officers this weekend, Smoot said.
“We want students to be safe and don’t want to arrest anyone, but there will be a zero tolerance,” he said.
To help better understand alcohol issues in Oklahoma, anyone over 18 can take a survey and are automatically in the running for a free iPad Mini until midnight Sept. 2. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/alcoholsurvey1.