Graduation, summer bring spike in teen drinking

Published 4:37 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Every year, Pelham Police Department Lt. Larry Palmer knows there is a darker side to the period surrounding the county’s high school graduations.

“Some kids get loaded up and head down to the beach after graduation. It seems like every year I pick up a paper and read about a kid getting killed in a wreck,” Palmer said. “One is one too many.”

Throughout Shelby County, law enforcement officials said high school graduation and the summer months usually bring a higher number of teen alcohol-related cases, drunken driving arrests and other crimes.

Palmer said the Pelham Police Department has not yet seen a spike in teen-alcohol cases, but he said the scenario could change any day.

During the weeks leading up to graduation, local departments arrested several juveniles for alcohol-related offenses.

“Sometimes, the kids let loose a little too much. This time of year, the kids get a little bit of freedom, and they feel like they have something to celebrate,” Alabaster Police Deputy Chief Curtis Rigney said, noting many local teens who consume alcohol do so in house party settings.

“Unfortunately, they often partake in the use of alcohol,” Rigney added. “When we run across that, we are going to enforce the law very strictly.”

Palmer said his department is also preparing to handle a three-month spike in the number of alcohol-related crimes.

“I guess with the summer months, the kids just have more idle time,” Palmer said. “We do usually see a spike with the seniors around graduation.

“They get so excited about graduation, and they all get together and have parties, which is fine,” Palmer said. “But unfortunately, from time to time, someone will come in and introduce alcohol to one of those events. Then you’ve got a problem.”

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ken Burchfield said his department usually places a higher priority on prosecuting and searching for teen drinking offenses, which can lead to a higher number of arrests around graduation.

“Do I know more teens drink and more teens drink more this time of the year? I would intuitively say yes,” Burchfield said. “We are more aware of kids driving drunk around this time, so we probably do make more arrests just because we are targeting it more heavily.”

Because many of the teen drinking cases involve children younger than 18, they often are prosecuted by the Shelby County Juvenile Court. For those who are not yet 21, simply being in possession of alcohol is a crime.

“(Juvenile Court) Judge (Jim) Kramer usually doesn’t really heavy fines, because he knows the parents will just end up paying it,” Palmer said. “He assigns the kids a bunch of hours of community service so they actually get the lesson instead of their parents just getting stuck with it.”

The officers also said they have little leniency on adults who contribute to teen drinking.

“In most cases, we put parents or adults in jail if they contribute to minors drinking or if they provide alcohol to minors,” Rigney said.