It’s hard enough to keep a village full of underage kids away from drugs and alcohol. When adults and parents are the ones condoning and facilitating the behavior, it can be nearly impossible.
In River Forest, the village board of trustees took a step Tuesday morning toward making adults accountable for allowing illegal activities by approving an amendment to the police regulations portion of the village code that deals with “social hosting.” The term refers to the hosting or condoning of events and behaviors that involve underage drinking and illicit drug use.
The new regulations make it unlawful to host, allow, or not take reasonable steps to prevent parties and gatherings that involve drinking and drug use by kids who are underage. In some cases, the parents or guardians don’t even have to be present at the party or gathering to violate the regulations; they can be cited simply for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent such an event from occurring.
Trustee Susan Conti took issue with the vague wording, pointing to an item in the ordinance that said a person can be cited for violating the ordinance if that person “knows or should have known about the committing of a prohibited act.”
“Should have known is very subjective,” said Conti.
But Village President John Rigas said there’s no reason for concern. “What you’re missing is the facts you just gave wouldn’t have led anyone to have reasonably known that [the underage kids] would have done that,” he said, adding that he has a 19-year-old child whom he sometimes leaves at home alone at night. “That doesn’t mean I assume they’re going to have a party,” he said.
Village Attorney Lance Malina also said that a judge would be the one to make the final determination on what a reasonable person “should have known” in individual situations.
Interim Police Chief Gregory Weiss said the new regulations actually give the parents a defense against being held responsible for underage drinking that occurs on their property or on their watch. If homeowners are out of town, they can avoid liability for parties held by children they leave at home by giving the police permission in advance to search the home if there’s any suspicion of underage drinking.
“We’re just being proactive,” Weiss said, stating that other areas in the state and across the country already enforce similar regulations.
“It’s not as punitive as we’re trying to make it,” Trustee Catherine Adduci said. “I think we all around this table have either experienced something of this nature and have agreed in principle that we need to be reasonable parents.”
“I just don’t want it to have unintended consequences,” said Conti.
“I don’t think it can,” said Rigas.