Following a pair of recent “social host” law arrests, the issue of teen drinking is on the minds of local police and school officials, who say education is key to preventing similar incidents.
The county’s social host law, which makes it illegal for anyone over 18 who owns or rents a home to “knowingly allow the consumption of alcohol or alcoholic beverages by any minor” on the premises, was first approved in 2007. It was strengthened last year from a violation to a misdemeanor.
Southold Town police have made a pair of arrests under the law in the past month, following house parties at homes in Southold and Mattituck.
While police officials said it’s too early to tell if the change in the law has made a difference in enforcement, school administrators say the recent arrests have raised awareness of the law and the prevalence of teen drinking.
“I would say we’re very tuned into this,” said Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith. “Certainly, when something actually happens it heightens everyone’s awareness.”
Dr. Smith said it’s important for families to be aware of the law and the amount of underage drinking in order to keep students safe and away from situations they may not be equipped to handle.
Southold and Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg said the social host law is discussed each year at Southold during a pre-prom meeting with parents and students and parents also receive a mailing about the law. In Greenport, he said, Kym Laube of HUGS in Westhampton gave separate presentations this year for students and parents about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
Both districts, Mr. Gamberg added, provide students attending prom with bus transportation to and from the schools.
Southold Town police Captain Frank Kruszeski echoed the administrators’ sentiments.
“That’s a big part of what really needs to take place here, is education,” he said. “A lot of parents I don’t think would knowingly do this. I think they’re of the opinion that kids are going to go drink anyway, so they think they’re doing something good by providing a safe place where people won’t drive and we won’t have any of those tragedies. But that’s really not permissible.”
Dr. Smith said her school district hosts an annual meeting on underage drinking before the end of each school year — when prom and graduation occur. Capt. Kruszeski said that’s also the time of year when police are most on the lookout for underage drinking.
In an interview last year, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said his department was among the first to charge someone under the social host law, but has made few arrests since the law was enacted.
Capt. Kruszeski said it remains to be seen if there will be any significant increase or decrease in the number of social host law cases under the new law, but he said two arrests in such close proximity was noticeable.
The first recent social host incident involved 35-year-old Mary Shalvey of Southold, who was arrested April 14 following a party with over 75 people at her Pine Avenue home. Ms. Shalvey declined comment when reached by telephone this week.
Pedro Diaz, 49, was arrested May 6 following a party attended by over 50 youths at his home on Factory Avenue in Mattituck. He could not be reached by telephone this week.
A first-time social host offense carries a fine up to $500. Those who commit a second offense can face fines of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, Capt. Kruszeski said.
Both Ms. Shalvey and Mr. Diaz are due back in Southold Town Justice Court June 2.
Photo: Concerns about underage drinking at parties are usually heightened during prom and graduation season. A pair of recent arrests has thrust that conversation further into the spotlight. (Credit: Thai Nguyen / flickr.com)