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Police making fewer underage alcohol arrests


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A word of warning to teens planning to throw a big bash, complete with alcohol for their underage friends: The police are looking for you.

You might think you know how to get away with it — you’ll keep it discreet and invite only a few friends. Or you won’t risk having it at someone’s house while their parents are out of town, opting instead to have a dozen or so people meet deep in the woods. But if one teen invites a friend, who also invites a friend, that can lead to a party of 25, prompting neighbors to call police about the noise at 1 a.m. or all the vehicles parked along the street.

Since 2009, police in the county have arrested more than 1,900 teens or young adults for underage drinking, often finding them at house parties with a dozen or more others. But during the past five years, the number of underage drinking arrests has fallen each year, from 482 arrests in 2009 to 240 last year, according to data from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

Police said the decrease is at least partly due to more neighbors calling police when they think a party is going on. As more residents have called police about suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhoods, officers and deputies have been able to find more underage drinking parties. As word of the busts spread, teens may think twice before attending parties, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said.

“One way or another, we’re probably going to track most of those down,” Cox said.

After teens are arrested for consuming or possessing alcohol, they’re taken to either the juvenile detention center or the county jail, depending on whether they’re 18. Students also can face consequences at school, including being suspended from sports or extracurricular activities or banned entirely if they continue to drink.

Groups including Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, are trying to encourage students in high school to make better decisions that won’t get them into trouble or put them in danger. That includes staging mock car crashes and other presentations to show students some of the consequences of underage drinking.

“All these things together, I think, have raised the profile of alcohol in the community,” SADD CEO Penny Wells said.

In the past year, police in Johnson County were called to at least seven house parties where from 10 to 25 people younger than 21 were drinking. Typically officers spend two to three hours arresting and processing one person. So when police break up a party with 25 people, such as the one they found at a Center Grove area home last month, the work can easily require the time of every deputy who is working, Cox said.

“Other than a homicide investigation, (this is) one of the type of incidents that ties up our personnel for long periods of time,” Cox said.

But police need to watch for those parties to ensure underage drinkers don’t hurt themselves or others. One of the teens at the party last month was taken to a hospital after he passed out from heavy drinking. Teens won’t always call for help if they’ve been drinking because they don’t want to get in trouble, Cox said.

“Kids that have been drinking make terrible decisions,” he added.

That is the focus of one group: helping teens make better decisions. Right now, SADD has more than 250 chapters across Indiana, including ones at Center Grove, Greenwood, Indian Creek and Whiteland high schools, where students concerned about underage drinking can help organize programs to help stop it, Wells and state coordinator Jamie Vickery said.

The programs vary by school, but spring is a popular time of year for SADD events, since high school juniors and seniors will be looking to celebrate after prom and graduation. One of the most popular events involves staging a car crash for upperclassmen and showing the students what emergency crews have to do to rescue those involved, Wells and Vickery said.

Students also can coordinate a program called Grim Reaper. Students who are tapped on the shoulder throughout the school day put on a black shirt and stop talking to their classmates until the end of the day, Vickery said.

“It’s just a good visual way to show students to make good decisions,” Vickery said. “Because if not, it could be their friend who’s missing from class one day.”

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