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Editorial: Party Patrol targets DWI and gunplay; don’t overthink it

The Party Patrol is a pretty simple concept: Get police out at night to respond to calls about parties with underage drinking. And, do some proactive work like using decoys to identify retailers and others selling booze to minors.

The need is painfully apparent – especially when you consider guns, booze (and often drugs) are a toxic mix for teens. Look no further than the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Sandia High senior Sean Markey at a homecoming party Sept. 29.

In fact, an Albuquerque Police spokesman says police have identified 20 shooting incidents tied to house parties this year.

New Mexicans also know all too well the risks in drinking and driving. Consider the very real threat impaired teens pose to themselves and others when they get behind the wheel after what is often a session of binge drinking.

So kudos to APD for bringing back a form of the Party Patrol this summer – a program that targeted teen violence and drinking in its first run in the early 2000s.

Commander Donovan Rivera told KRQE News 13 that during the summer the department designated half a dozen officers to respond to house party disturbance calls. “We all know kids are out of school. It’s nice out and the parents might go out of town and leave their house to their teenage kids.”

Well, that cat’s-away-mice-will-play mentality doesn’t stop when summer exits and fall rolls around. It’s a law of social physics: Many teens will find places to congregate and party.

So it makes sense that City Councilors Trudy Jones, Ken Sanchez and Brad Winter are proposing $150,000 in extra funding to beef up the Party Patrol efforts – especially in light of the number of shooting incidents identified by APD tied to house parties.

Winter, who sponsored the original Party Patrol legislation, said it proved effective in reducing teen violence and drunken driving. He cited statistics that showed the first incarnation of the patrol broke up 302 parties and confiscated 23 guns during one eight-month period.

Rivera echoed the public safety sentiment. “Party Patrol plays a vital role in (curbing DWI) because most kids, teenagers are driving, so we’re trying to curb a lot of the drunk(en) driving as well.”

The program was phased out years ago, at least in part because of the manpower shortage faced by APD at the time.

Under the program, many kids were cited and parents were often called – which was a good thing. The program was not without its problems, but with lessons learned it makes sense to push forward and add resources.

Unfortunately, it seems the Mayor Tim Keller administration wants to overthink and overcomplicate this. In fact, his office insists that it does not have a “Party Patrol” and is instead calling for a “Youth Violence Intervention” strategy that incorporates police and social service providers. So perhaps we can dispatch dozens of social workers to ride around with cops on Friday nights as they respond to raucous parties? Maybe they can chat with inebriated teens about why they are drinking and posting selfies with guns on social media?

The Mayor’s Office now says it needs time to come up with a strategy that would include supporting diversion programs and programs that “build relationships between youth and first responders.”

But to curb such parties – and their potential dangers – the most obvious step is swift intervention, accountability and parental involvement.

Meanwhile, the suggestion this would unfairly target people of color is a politically correct red herring. If police can save the lives of teens of any ethnicity by intervening at drug-and-alcohol-fueled gatherings, that’s a good thing.

There is anti-DWI grant money available for the patrol – assuming it retains that aspect as a major focus. Which, of course, it should.

No one is suggesting the program shouldn’t be tweaked and updated. Maybe it could be kinder and gentler. It certainly should be about citations, not jail, for underage drinkers and should target the adults who make the alcohol available, or who turn a blind eye to the parties on their premises. We can learn from experience.

An immediate response is needed for this literal life-and-death problem that isn’t going away. The city needs to forge ahead, quickly, and allocate additional resources to it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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