Pierce County teen party patrols arrest 50; more patrols planned

In an ongoing effort to stem the tide of teen injuries and deaths from alcohol or drug use, Pierce County’s Party Intervention Patrol is gearing up for patrols this spring and summer.

The multi-agency patrol shut down three underage drinking parties in recent weeks, which resulted in more than 50 arrests for minor in possession, DUI or providing a house for an underage party. Most of those arrested were age 18 or younger.

The three parties took place in Bonney Lake, Tacoma and on the Key Peninsula. They involved students from Bonney Lake, Puyallup, White River, Sumner, Peninsula and Washington high schools, as well as the University of Puget Sound.

“Arresting a kid for breaking underage drinking laws is important,” Puyallup Police Sgt. Bob Thompson said, “but putting good resources into the hands of kids and their parents to prevent risky choices is more important. It’s why we keep doing these patrols.”

After underage youth are arrested by a Party Intervention Patrol, chemical dependency professionals conduct brief screenings and interventions aimed at linking youth with community resources, when needed. Trained volunteers pass information to parents to help them take steps to prevent the youths from drinking again.

Although police aren’t saying specifically where and when, a total of 19 Party Intervention Patrols will take place through this year and early next year.

Here is a closer look at the recent busts:

— Bonney Lake: A patrol hosted by the Sumner Police Department arrived at a party on April 16 and found four youth in a car preparing to smoke marijuana. Hundreds of open beer cans littered the lawn of the residence owned by the supplier’s aunt, who was not home at the time.

— Key Peninsula: An April 22 patrol by Gig Harbor Police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department found youth drinking around a bonfire and inside a residence, while the mother of one underage participant slept. Two juvenile drivers arrested for DUI by Washington State Patrol troopers were both carrying underage passengers, most of whom had been drinking.

— Tacoma: Police busted a party near the University of Puget Sound on April 23. Three adults were charged with supplying alcohol to underage college students.

Before the Party Intervention Patrols were started, an average of eight impaired teenagers died each year in vehicle crashes in Pierce County. Only one impaired teen driver died in 2010. Since 2007, Party Intervention Patrol officers have been credited with rescuing a teen suffering from alcohol poisoning who was left in a bath tub at a party, an impaired young driver found unconscious and slumped over the steering wheel in the middle of the road, and an underage girl found walking down railroad tracks after drinking with adults at a nearby bar.

Fourteen law enforcement agencies participate in the project, which is funded by grants from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the state Department of Social and Health Services, the Puget Sound Educational Service District and the Washington Impaired Driving Council. Pierce County’s Community Connections provides administrative support via the Tacoma-Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force. More information about the task force is available at http://www.piercecountywa.org/dui .

The Tacoma Police Department has set up a Party Intervention Patrol Hot Line to report underage drinking parties in the city. Tacoma parents and concerned citizens should call (253) 830-6548 to report underage parties.