By Mary Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
Nov. 27, 2019: Our police chief has asked me to dedicate my column this week to awareness of state and local laws relating to underage drinking as they are not widely dispersed or understood.
As an example, in 2008, the Westchester County Legislature passed a “Social Host” Law. In essence, it states that any adult who knowingly allows a party or gathering where minors are present and drinking alcohol – or becomes aware that minors are drinking on their premises – and fails to take action can be punished by fine and/or imprisonment. First-time offenders are fined $250 with the amount increasing per incident to a $1000 fine and/or up to one-year imprisonment on the third offense. In addition, if someone who drank on your property should subsequently injure someone while driving, civil liabilities attach as well as criminal charges if it is determined that you should have known of their behavior with ignorance not being a defense.
It is also important to note that the State has a zero tolerance policy for drivers under 21 impaired by alcohol. Any level of impairment subjects the driver to a DMV hearing and possible license revocation.
In house party situations, Village police officers are most concerned with determining the source of the alcohol and work closely with neighboring jurisdictions to ascertain point of sale. In addition, our police force does “integrity checks” on all Village businesses that serve or sell alcohol, and I am gratified to report that they were all law abiding at last check.
We are all aware that a merchant selling alcohol to a minor can be arrested. The charge is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a wide range of fines and up to one year in jail. However, under the same law, a “seller” or “giver” of an alcoholic beverage to a minor can be a sixteen-year-old handing a beer to a nineteen-year-old at a party, and the same penalties apply.
Bronxville, like many other communities, has an Open Container Law with violators subject to fines from $25 to $250, thirty hours of community service, and mandatory attendance at a MADD meeting with stricter penalties for repeat offenders. However, concurrently, under an applicable Alcoholic State Beverage Control Law, the punishment is the same, but there is no requirement that the container be open or even physically in one’s hand. Everyone under the age of 21 at a party or in a car where alcohol is present can be deemed violating the law. Not drinking is not a defense. This is a classic case of guilt by association.
The most dangerous situations are those when friends all have been drinking, but one is in particular extremis requiring medical attention. Youngsters will often call 911 but then leave the scene, fearing their own punishment. The result is often precious minutes lost as EMTs and police look for the exact location of the child often in the dark. There have been cases of youngsters found in snow banks and hypothermic here in the Village. In late 2011, the New York State Legislature passed a “911 Good Samaritan Law” specifically to address this dangerous situation. The law seeks to encourage youngsters to call 911, remain with their friend until help arrives with the caller held harmless, thereby averting a possible tragedy.
Some of the above laws are strict to be sure, but the underlying premise is the safety and well-being of minors. The police are sworn to uphold the law, but at the same time, local police departments have some discretion in eventual disposition and punishment.
A great deal of the Village police efforts in this area are directed toward education and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Our department views indiscretions of our youth as opportunities for teachable moments, fully understanding the long term implications of arrest and prosecution. However, in certain circumstances, the filing of formal charges may be necessary. The department’s paramount concern is the safety of our youth and educating them that poor choices have consequences.
The most disheartening scenario for our officers is bringing someone to the police station one Friday night only to see him or her out the next Friday night exhibiting the same behavior.
Our police department’s current emphasis is on training officers to earn specialization in youth services. In the past, we had one officer so trained, and now we have fourteen who work very closely with the school, students, and families to assist in youth issues of all varieties, not just underage drinking. Parents are encouraged to call the department and collaborate with officers on prevention strategies.
As residents, police officers, school officials, and devoted parents, we must band together to ensure the safety and well-being of the Village’s most precious asset, our young people.
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