Police wants new weapon to combat underage drinking

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    SPARTA-Police in Sparta are leaving no stone unturned when searching for solutions to curb underage drinking and discourage the risky behavior associated with drug and alcohol use. Sparta Chief of Police Ernie Reigstad and township health officer Ralph D'Aries appeared before the township council on Tuesday and urged passage of an ordinance that would give police greater authority to address their concerns when teenagers go to parties in private homes where alcohol may be served or drugs are present. At some of these parties, officials say, parents may have gone away for the weekend. At others, adults are present, but allow underage drinking. "The parents in this town are very responsible," said Reistad. "We haven't had big underage drinking parties for many, many years in town. That has to do with the attitudes of the parents and understanding the ramifications of it anthe schools deal with these issues and educate the children. When that fails, we do need to have the ability to deal with a problem if it does come up." The proposed ordinance would prohibit the consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages on private property by a person under the age of 21 who has not obtained the permission of or is in the presence of a parent, legal guardian, or relative who has attained the legal age to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. "Living in a town like Sparta, everyone drives to wherever they are going, including to a party," said Reigstad. "If they leave that party, they're going to have to get behind the wheel. We certainly don't want an alcohol-related accident coming out of one of these incidents if we can stop it before that happens." According to the Sussex County Coalition for Health and Safe Families, which has been lobbying local governments to pass this legislation, alcohol is the number one drug of choice among teenagers. The goup says car crashes, alcohol poisoning, unprotected sexual relations, academic problems and binge drinking are all associated with underage drinking. While Sussex ranks 17th in population by county in New Jersey, it ranks fifth in juveniles driving under the influence. "This gives police another tool for preventing kids from getting into a car," said D'Aries, who added that Newton, Hopatcong, Wantage, Andover, Franklin, and Byram have already adopted similar ordinances.