By Melissa Ford
Oak Park Police now have greater flexibility in effectively dealing with underage drinking, tobacco and marijuana use under new ordinances recently passed by the Village of Oak Park.
But specifically how do these new ordinances impact teen behavior and parental involvement moving forward?
Below, I've reprinted comments provided by IM.P.A.C.T's George Thompson and Kris Raino-Ogden, highlighting the new options available and potential effect on parents and teens under these ordinances.
Previously, Oak Park did not have a specific Social Hosting law. When there was evidence that an adult knowingly hosted a party and provided the alcohol or other illegal substance, that was an offense. If they claimed to not be aware that there was alcohol or marijuana at a party at their home (or hotel room, party room, yard, park where they are supervising) then there was nothing the police could do. Similarly, if the parents went away for the weekend and a party with illegal substances occurred in their absence, they were not liable for any offense.
Now, parents can be cited with the local ordinance if they don't actively try to prevent a party with alcohol and marijuana from occurring (in their residence, hotel room, party room, etc.). If the parents are present, they need to have taken reasonable steps to make sure the underage kids are not using illegal substances, or else they can be cited. Further, if they go away for the weekend, if they notify police that they will be gone and ask them to look out for the house, then they cannot be cited under this ordinance.
Reasonable steps parents or hosts can take to avoid being cited under the new ordinance or as a defense against the charges:
- Controlling access to alcohol and drugs at the event or gathering so that no minor has access to them;
- Verifying the age of people attending the event or gathering by inspecting drivers licenses or other government-issued identification cards to ensure that minors do not consume alcohol or drugs while at the event or gathering;
- Supervising the activities of the minors at the event or gathering either in person or through a responsible adult;
- Calling for police assistance in the event minors are in possession of alcohol or drugs at the event or gathering;
- Terminating the event or gathering because the Host has been unable to prevent minors from consuming alcohol or drugs;
- Advising law enforcement in advance of departing one's residence or premises for any length of time that no minors are authorized to be present and consume alcohol or drugs at the residence.
Attendance at a Party (if underage) where Alcoholic Beverages or Illegal Substances are Present
Previously, a minor could be at a party where illegal substances are present without being charged with an offense if they were not visibly using the illegal substances or drinking alcohol. In essence, if a party-goer did not have a drink in his hand or marijuana on her person, he or she could not be charged with anything. This made it really difficult to even arrest or cite anyone (if the police so desired -- which they most often did not because of the severe penalties relative to the crime.)
Now, simply being at a party where drugs and alcohol are present can result in a citation under the new local ordinance. This sends the message to kids that even if they are not drinking or using, simply being at the party is a bad idea. It will help reinforce better behavior among peers; the hope is that they will self-police.
General Alcohol and Under 30g of Cannabis
Previously, if a minor was caught with alcohol or under 30 g of Cannabis, the only option available to police was to arrest the child. Once at the station, they could either perform a "station adjustment" where the parents are called and the child is issued a warning -- or they could charge them with a misdemeanor and the child would have to appear at Juvenile Court in Maywood. The first option lets the child off very easily. The second option results in a Juvenile Record (if convicted) and that conviction is required to be reported on college applications and on employment applications until it is expunged at age 21. This can have a very negative impact on a child's future, even if they abandon drug and alcohol use.
Now, the police can issue a citation for a "petty offense" in these instances. They don't need to take the kids into the station to do this. The parents will be called, a ticket is issued, the youth and their parent(s) or legal guardian must appear in Oak Park for a locally adjudicated hearing. The hope is that the local adjudicators will more likely determine sentencing that will include a fine, and more importantly, referral to an appropriate educational or therapeutic program. The petty offense is not required to be reported to employers or on college applications.
This gives police officers a lot of flexibility. They don't have to round up kids and bring them into the station. They can break up a party and issue tickets and call parents on the spot. Parents will have to be involved -- and the kids will hopefully benefit from an education program or mandated therapy.
It is important to note in all of this that the police have the option to issue the ordinance instead of charging a minor with a misdemeanor. If this is a child they've seen too often, they may still opt to send them to Cook County Circuit Court. These new local ordinances provide an additional tool -- they do not replace the old ones.
Previously, minors could not purchase tobacco, but there was no law against possession. So there was very little police could do when they saw a minor -- or groups of minors -- standing around smoking.
Now, police can issue citations for smoking under the local ordinance. The first fine is $25 - $300 with the possibility of being referred to an education or smoking cessation program. Second and subsequent citations would result in a fine of $50 to $500 with the possibility of referral. Again,The local adjudicators will have flexibility to deal with what is appropriate for each child. Also, if a 15 or 16 year old can begin a smoking cessation class when their addiction is new or developing, they will have a greater chance of actually quitting.
It's the hope of members of IM.P.A.C.T that passage of these ordinances will:
1) Send a message that the community and specifically the adults in the community, think that drinking and smoking are dangerous behaviors that minors should not participate in. This is important to change the current permissive culture and acceptance of youth risky behavior.
2) Give police and parents more tools to "catch" kids or intervene, so that parents can become involved, and a bigger problem can be hopefully avoided down the road.
3) Stress education and therapy through consequences that can help a child have an easier and better future rather than dole out harsh punishments that often impede opportunities a child would need to have a better future (i.e. college and job).
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