Police: Underage Drinking Has 'Evolved' in Kinnelon
Lieutenant said some parents seem to have grown more accepting of underage alcohol use.
As the Kinnelon Police Department awaits the decision next month of the Kinnelon Council on whether to enact an ordinance that would allow police to charge underage individuals found with alcohol on private property, Police Chief John Finkle said he wants residents to be aware of what is happening at parties in the borough and how parenting should not stop when kids become teenagers.
At last week's council meeting, Finkle told council members, members of Kinnelon's Underage Drinking Ordinance Advisory Committee and members of the public that there are parties every weekend in the borough and the youth are not just drinking, but also experimenting with drugs, getting medically injured and, at times, sexually assaulting other residents.
Finkle said Tuesday that many of the sexual assaults go unreported, as sexual assaults often do in general, with some victims feeling too afraid to prosecute, but that while the reports of them are infrequent, police know they are happening at the parties because many residents come forward with information.
In addition to the assaults, Lt. John Schwartz said some underage individuals are experimenting with drugs and that the majority of times a person selling drugs is arrested in the borough, they tell police they are coming from a party.
"It all starts at the house party, the social aspect," Schwartz said.
Schwartz said police have knowledge that marijuana, cocaine, heroin and Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana, have been used at parties in Kinnelon. While these drugs are not prevalent at every party, police are concerned that use of these drugs at an early age can lead to future drug addiction.
Still, Schwartz said alcohol is the most prevalent drug at the parties and thanks to the marketing of the liquor companies, he said, teenagers are finding new ways to consume alcohol, including by drinking JELL-O shots, where alcohol is used to make the JELL-O, or soaking gummi bears in vodka to have them absorb the alcohol.
Schwartz has also seen parties evolve in Kinnelon over the past 10 years, he said. A decade ago, teenagers partied at homes before the trend moved more toward parties in the woods. Now the teenagers are partying in private homes more, however, the amount of alcohol they are consuming seems to be leading to more medical injuries, the lieutenant said. Police are also finding that teenagers are mixing alcohol more with other drugs when compared to the behavior in years past.
"There's an epidemic of these kids taking the opiates and spiraling into (other drugs)," he said.
Schwartz said he feels that parents' feelings about underage drinking have also changed in the borough.
"Now it's evolved into an acceptance," he said.
Both Schwartz and Finkle are fathers of teenagers and while they are not advising others on how to parent, Finkle said there is a perception amongst some parents that they cannot control their kids or influence their decisions when they are at that age.
"I don't understand, at a certain point, why you have to give in," Finkle said.
Instead, Finkle said it is important that parents take an active role in trying to steer their children away from alcohol and drugs before they begin experimenting with them. Finkle's hope is that with the ordinance, police can help parents in the mission to guide kids away from alcohol. Some public perception about enforcement of the ordinance has been that police will seek out the parties and underage drinkers to arrest. But the police said the intention is not to use the ordinance to be able to arrest more kids but more so as a deterrant for underage drinkers.
"We arrest about three times more adults than kids (in Kinnelon)," Schwartz said. "Underage drinking is a small part of what we do, but it's an important part of what we do."
To prove that officers do not target the borough's youth for underage drinking-related offenses under the current law, which allows them to charge underage drinkers on public property, Finkle shared data from the past six years with Tri-Boro Patch.
In 2005, of the 189 total arrests in the borough, 10 were violations of 2C:33-15, the charge associated with underage persons consuming or in possession of alcohol on public property.
In 2006, 29 arrests were made on the charge out of 245 total arrests; in 2007, nine were charged out of 198 arrests; in 2008, eight were charged out of 157; in 2009, 13 were charged out of 130 arrests and in 2010, 28 were charged out of 203 arrests. In 2011, 21 underage individuals were arrested on the charge out of 232 total arrests, representing 9 percent of the arrests in the borough.
The chief also shared data for arrests made over the past six years on charges of serving alcohol to minors. In 2005, only one arrest was made on the charge while in 2006, two were charged. In 2007 and 2008, no arrests were made on the charge of providing alcohol to minors and in 2009 and 2010, only one arrest was made on the charge. In 2011, two were charged with providing alcohol to minors.
Kinnelon police have been requesting an underage drinking ordinance for the past several years, but there is a chance that the ordinance recommended by the state, which includes subsequent fines and the possible suspension of a person's driver's license at the discretion of a judge, may not be the ordinance the Kinnelon Council passes. Still, Schwartz said having an ordinance at all helps police.
"A little bit of a tool is better than no tool," he said.