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Westchester County Cracks Down on Prom Drinking

LCT Staff
Posted on May 30, 2007

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Prom season is now fully in bloom and so are the efforts to keep teens safe and sober during the annual rite of spring. Schools are requiring students to sign sobriety pledges and keeping breath alcohol devices on hand "just in case." Police are setting up checkpoints to inspect limousines. And parents are no longer willing to plead ignorance when it comes to what their precious little angels might actually be up to. Students, meanwhile, are hearing the message loud and clear.

Halfway through the prom season, Westchester County's "Operation Safe Prom" police checkpoints have netted only one bottle of rum. That's quite a drop from the 46 bottles of booze seized last year. During one limousine check last year, New Rochelle police found a 16-year-old girl en route to Bedford's Fox Lane High School prom passed out from alcohol poisoning. She was rushed to a hospital.

As the vice president of Armonk Limousine, Lisa Bove said, her company is "definitely in favor" of the county's efforts to take the boozing out of prom night — even if it means pulling over her drivers to inspect the limousines. "We're responsible for those children. When they're in our cars, it's our responsibility to make sure that alcohol doesn't get into the car," she said. "If they do sneak it in, then having police stopping and checking the vehicle is absolutely wonderful because it means those children are doing something they shouldn't be doing."

Still, some schools are not willing to take the chance that students will behave in a limousine or their own vehicles. In Putnam Valley, for instance, all students must meet at the school and take a bus to and from the prom. Police said they've noticed this trend popping up throughout the region. Yet drinking isn't the only concern on people's minds this prom season. Illicit drugs, such as the popular club drug Ecstasy, are much easier to conceal and much easier to ingest than a bottle of liquor. They also may provide the high some teens are seeking as they embark on a night built up by grand expectations. But police are on the watch for that, as well.

"We don't pat students down, but our officers are trained to look for signs of drug use and will investigate," said Kieran O'Leary, spokesman for the Westchester County Police Department.

Parents, meanwhile, are being encouraged to stand tough. The Westchester County District Attorney's Office joined officials from the Health Alliance on Alcohol to urge parents to sign a pledge vowing not to sell, buy or give alcohol to anyone under 21, or to host a party where underage drinking is allowed. The alliance includes Heineken USA and several health care institutions, including White Plains Hospital Center.

"Parents sort of think of drinking at your prom or graduation party as a rite of passage. But it's not. It's an illegal activity that can harm the child," said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. "If parents are really concerned about their kids, they should be taking steps to see that their son or daughter is not drinking or abusing substances."

Sharon Saias has already gone through the prom drill with her oldest daughter so she knows what's up when it comes to partying on prom night. And although there's still a few years before it's time for her sixth-grade daughter to go to the prom, the Briarcliff mother isn't about to sit back and hope for the best. Instead, she has joined a prom-safety group started up this year by the Briarcliff Community Coalition. "Parents lots of times turn a blind eye," said Saias, a marketing consultant. "A lot of us are afraid to ask. We trust our kids, but we are afraid to ask."

One of the group's biggest concerns was that the prom itself is not where problems arise — it's the after-parties that are the real trouble spots. The trend in Briarcliff over the past few years has been for students to rent out private lofts in Manhattan, where there are no barriers to underage drinking. This sort of knowledge is power when it comes to keeping teens safe on prom night, Saias said.

Source: The Journal News

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