By The Mason City Globe Gazette
North Iowa law enforcement puts a lot of time and effort into fighting teen drinking, knowing it’s a fight they’ll likely never win.
They’ve recently wrapped up a yearlong high-visibility effort backed by a $175,000 grant, and they’re convinced they raised public awareness about the problem.
It’s an effort to be commended and hopefully continued with strong community support.
Some may scoff at the problem, saying kids have been drinking forever. Maybe so, but North Iowa seems to have a particularly bad problem.
The Iowa Youth Survey and CORE survey data show 33 percent of local 11th-grade youth reported binge drinking. That’s 30 percent higher than the average Iowa 11th-grade student and 65 percent higher than 11th-grade youth nationally.
It’s such a concern because, aside from being against the law, it has such potentially devastating consequences. Those who do it risk health consequences, even death from alcohol overdose. And those who drink and drive pose extremely high risks to themselves and others.
Thus the necessity and worthiness of programs such as the one Cerro Gordo County participated in that involved high-visibility enforcement and investigations into sources that provided alcohol to minors.
The $175,000 was used for a program called Underage Drinking, Adult Consequences. It paid overtime as officers increased enforcement efforts, including party patrols and alcohol-compliance checks at retailers.
All of which led to heightened awareness and changing the mindset of adults about the problem, which Cerro Gordo Sheriff Kevin Pals said is “three-quarters of the battle.”
Pals said the patrols at public events helped keep alcohol from getting into the hands of young people.
“We wanted them not to sell to underage people,” he said.
And Pals believes the program was a success if it kept just one teen from attending an event where there was illegal use of alcohol.
Now, while the one-year grant period is gone, the battle continues as law enforcement will continue stressing awareness of the problem.
Pals said each agency will continue to do what it can to combat underage drinking.
Mary Schissel, head of the Mason City Youth Task Force, said her organization will continue working with law enforcement “to keep as much attention on this as we can.”
“We may have a fight that we never win,” said Clear Lake Police Lt. Deb Ryg, “but since we have the chance to educate people on the risks and liabilities of serving minors, we can help bring those numbers down and save people’s lives.”
We wish the Youth Task Force and law enforcement great success with their efforts to battle teen drinking.
No, the battle may never be won. But it’s important to keep the pressure on. We urge the community to help law enforcement and other agencies concerned about teen drinking to do just that.