RUMFORD – Concern about underage drinking and adults supplying teens with booze prompted local, county and state police to join forces with the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition this spring to combat the problem.

To better educate teens and parents, area police convened a news conference Wednesday morning in the Rumford municipal building auditorium.

Participants included: Rumford Chief Stacy Carter, Mexico Chief Jim Theriault, Dixfield Sgt. Jeffrey Howe, Oxford County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Darrell “Dane” Tripp, Maine State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb, Trooper Kyle Tilsley, and coalition coordinator Patricia Duguay of Byron.

Armed with a $32,000 federal grant through the coalition, police are taking a no tolerance stance toward both issues.

Citing the onset of warm weather, proms and graduations, Carter said now is when police see more underage drinking.

“Kids are getting antsy and getting excited to graduate and go on summer vacation, and we thought it was important to really focus our efforts on curbing the amount of underage drinking before we have a fatality in the area,” Carter said.

“We want to help our teens create memories, not regrets,” Duguay said. “We want to make sure they celebrate sober.”

Grzyb spoke about the need for police to seriously crack down on underage drinking to better prevent teens from getting killed, injured or raped at booze parties.

“The least serious consequences that these people face will be dealing with us,” Grzyb said. “The real serious stuff involves death, rape, and serious injury and that’s what we want to avoid.”

Howe said Dixfield police will target adults – including store and bar owners – who supply teens with alcohol.

If convicted, they could face jail time and fines up to $1,500, not to mention overwhelming civil liabilities, Carter said.

That’s why voluntary compliance is being sought.

Tripp said that if a teen contacts the Sheriff’s Office for a ride home rather than risking their life with the intoxicated driver who took them to the party, a deputy will ensure they get that ride.

“We’d much rather do that than have to notify a parent that something’s happened to their child,” Tripp said.

Officers like Tilsley are also willing to work with high school students to help them establish a Students Against Drunk Driving chapter.

Police have also established a call list of officers to respond to large drinking parties.

“Again, we’re not out to fill a quota of any kind,” Tripp said. “We’re trying to protect our youth while serving the public at large.”

Citing statistics from a spring 2008 survey of River Valley area teens, Duguay and Howe drove home the seriousness of underage drinking.

Students in River Valley area schools were asked if they had drank alcohol 30 days prior to the survey.

“What disturbed me,” Howe said, was that it “found there were more teens drinking in the River Valley percentage wise, than in the rest of Oxford County.”

Additionally, Oxford County teen drinking topped the state average of 35 percent.

And 29 percent of those surveyed said alcohol was easily accessible while 36 percent admitted it was “sort of easy.”

“The consequences are going to continue to get more serious, because I do feel that people are finally realizing that this is something serious,” Duguay said.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not a rite of passage and it’s only going to get worse unless we start sticking up to it.”

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