Law holds hosts liable for underage drinkingGo ahead and tap that keg, Cottage Grove — just beware who’s there to drink from it. In time for a spring season full of graduation parties, Cottage Grove police will have a new weapon to combat underage drinking. City Council members passed an ordinance last Wednesday that will hold accountable party hosts who knowingly allow underage drinking to occur at their residence.
By: By Jon Avise, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Go ahead and tap that keg, Cottage Grove — just beware who’s there to drink from it.
In time for a spring season full of graduation parties, Cottage Grove police will have a new weapon to combat underage drinking. City Council members passed an ordinance last Wednesday that will hold accountable party hosts who knowingly allow underage drinking to occur at their residence.
The city’s social host ordinance is modeled after one passed in 2007 by the city of Chaska, the state’s first such law. Public safety officials say it will help deter underage drinking, limit police time spent dealing with large gatherings and limit neighborhood disturbances at a time of year when parties typically pick up.
It’s already illegal to provide alcohol to minors. The new ordinance targets those who “know or reasonably know that alcohol is being possessed or consumed by underage persons at their residence or premises or at any event they are hosting on public or private property.”
Violation of the new law is considered a misdemeanor.
“This isn’t meant to penalize parents or landlords,” said Cottage Grove police Sgt. Randy McAlister. “It’s meant to go after party hosts.”
Police say the ordinance isn’t meant to punish parents who head out of town only to find out later their teenagers used their home as a party pad. Rather, he said, it’s intended to dissuade parents from allowing gatherings at their homes when they know drinking is going to occur.
Underage drinking “is a problem, and I think Cottage Grove is no different from other cities,” said public safety director Craig Woolery. “There are many fronts that are trying to address underage consumption.”
Police responded to at least 34 underage drinking parties in 2009 and cited 141 minors for underage consumption, according to Cottage Grove Public Safety statistics. At one party alone, McAlister said, the department issued 16 underage consumption citations.
Those totals were fairly consistent with previous years, Woolery said.
Woolery said most police responses to large parties arise from calls to police by neighbors. The social host ordinance won’t expand police powers, making it easier to enter a party, police say. It will simply give the city another recourse to hold those throwing a party with underage drinkers accountable, McAlister said.
City Council member Jen Peterson said “the mom in (her)” urged her to push the city to pass a social host ordinance.
“It’s just something that’s a no-brainer to have to protect the kids,” she said.
Jon Avise is a reporter at the South Washington County Bulletin in Cottage Grove, Minn., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.