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 Campaign Kicks Off to Prevent Underage Drinking

The Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County, in coordination with the Law Enforcement Task Force, recently kicked off a countywide effort to prevent underage drinking and alcohol-related deaths and injuries.

Officials who spoke at a news conference at the San Diego County Office of Education to launch Operation Safe Prom had several strong messages for parents and youth, reminding them that one decision can determine a lifetime.

Operation Safe Prom is focused on alcohol-related prevention during prom and graduation season, when law enforcement sees an increase in drunk driving, alcohol-related accidents, and disturbance calls related to parties where underage drinking is taking place, often with parents present. The initiative's efforts will include DUI checkpoints, roving DUI patrols, and stepped-up enforcement of social host laws throughout San Diego County. All 18 cities and the unincorporated areas of the county have passed ordinances making it illegal to host underage drinking parties.

"Some parents think their kids will be safer because they're drinking at home," said Interim County Superintendent of Schools Edward Velasquez. "The fact is, it's not only wrong, it's illegal."

When law enforcement officers show up at such parties, they typically find teens unable to care for themselves and sometimes in need of medical attention. In more than 25 percent of the calls, parents were hosting the party.

Officials also reminded parents and teens of the grim statistics when it comes to young people, alcohol, and driving. Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were four times more likely than sober drivers in the same age group to be killed or severely injured, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said. Passengers traveling with drivers who had been drinking in that same age group were nearly six times more likely to be killed or severely injured than when traveling with a sober driver. The reminder coincides with National Youth Traffic Safety Month, recognized throughout May.

Velasquez added that Operation Safe Prom will help save lives, urging parents to help their children make good choices and find safe ways to celebrate.

Joining Velasquez and Zimmerman in reinforcing the messages of Operation Safe Prom were Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter, San Diego County Undersheriff Mark Elvin, and Ninth District PTA Vice President Carol Green.