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Rise in alcohol abuse by teens disturbs police




YORK, Maine - Police Chief Doug Bracy said a marked increase in the abuse of alcohol by teens has police worried that itís only a matter of time before there is a tragic outcome.

"Weíre seeing a recklessness among young people," said the chief.

Bracy said, by the end of 2003, there had been 162 alcohol violations, up from 97 in 2002. Of those cases, approximately 95 percent included possession of alcohol by minors.

The chief said the violators are younger and younger, and display behavior usually seen by college-age people.

"A lot are coming from some very large parties," said Bracy. "We need the communitiesí help on this - parents, kids, working together for more responsible decisions. I donít blame alcohol anymore than Iíd blame a car for an accident. I blame the bad judgment shown. We all own this.

"We had about five or six kids killed in the í90s," said Bracy. "That makes kids think for a while, so we put a lot into education about bad decisions and driving. But, until a tragedy affects you, itís not personalized."

Parents are the first line of defense, said the chief.

"Parents need to know where their kids are," said Bracy. "If there is a party or a sleep-over, parents have to find out if there will be adult supervision. Do the teens come home very late at night? What shape are they in when they arrive?"

Gaining access to alcohol is no problem for teens, he said. Bracy said he blames that, in part, on a decision by Maine government to eliminate the liquor commission.

"They did away with it and replaced it with about five troopers who do administrative duties," said Bracy. "We havenít seen them since. The commission used to assure that establishments sold properly and didnít over-serve. They did stings at stores, bars and restaurants. We have teenagers working at stores, and as long as the till comes in even, no one asks questions. Maine has let down its guard on this problem because of an unfunded mandate that left enforcement up to local police departments.

"Itís not easy for a local department. We donít have unknown officers. The kids know them."

Bracy said another problem is ads on television and in magazines, touting the glamour of alcohol.

"Society as a whole is sending mixed messages," said Bracy. "I had a beer distributor that wanted to fund my D.A.R.E. program. I refused."

The abuse of alcohol can be linked to other crimes, Bracy said, like vandalism. Mailbox smashing is common in almost all towns. More violent crimes, like armed robbery, can be linked to heroin. Bracy said that problem remains a huge issue in town.

"Almost daily, we are talking to or dealing with some of our known heroin users," said Bracy. "Itís so cheap now; it has become the drug of choice. They have to support their habit, so robberies and burglaries happen."