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Officials To Focus On Enforcement Of Underage Drinking, Social Host Ordinances This Weekend

July 3, 2013 1:38 p.m.


Beth Sise, Chair, Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County, Director, Trauma Research & Injury Prevention, Scripps Mercy Hospital

Patricia Duke, Assistant Sheriff, SD County Sheriff's Department, member of the Alcohol Policy Panel

Related Story: Officials To Focus On Enforcement Of Underage Drinking, Social Host Ordinances This Weekend


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Right now, the 4th of July is a time for celebration, and it happens of course tomorrow! There are house parties and pool parties, picnics and barbecues. It's also time when some people may choose to take an adult beverage or two. Now, most of us already know it's wrong, potentially deadly, and illegal to drink and drive. So that's on the not to do list. Also on that list is serving alcoholic beverages to underaged kids. What many San Diegans don't know is that it is illegal to host any event where people under the age of 21 are drinking. It's called San Diego's Social Host Ordinance. Joining me to explain this misunderstood law are my guests, Beth Sise is director of trauma research and injury prevention at Scripps Mercy Hospital. Welcome to the program.

SISE: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Patricia Duke is assistant sheriff and member of the alcohol policy panel. Welcome to the show.

DUKE: Thanks for having us.

CAVANAUGH: Is the community in general aware of the social host ordinance?

SISE: No. A year or two ago we did a survey, and it turned out a vast majority, 70%-plus of the folks who were surveyed were unaware of the law.

CAVANAUGH: Sheriff duke, most people I think know they're not supposed to serve alcohol to minors. But they may be confused in how this social host ordinance differs. Tell us what it actually bans.

DUKE: Actually what it is, it just truly assigns a responsibility to those who know or should have known a drinking party was occurring on their property and there's minors present. So it's about managing your party. And if there's youth there that are under the age of 21, eliminating the access to alcohol to them, verifying their age if needed, and supervising.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. So how is someone actually supposed to know this? Are you supposed to card your guests so to speak?

DUKE: Absolutely. If needed, most people should know the folks that are entering their home and involved in their party. And if they don't, they should put in safe guards to protect those that shouldn't be drinking.

CAVANAUGH: And what about how free the flow of alcohol is at the party in general?

DUKE: Absolutely. And that is part of the social host ordinance. In it, there's elements, and one of the elements is to control the access of the alcohol.

CAVANAUGH: So it's not enough to say oh, well, I didn't offer any alcohol to anyone who was under 21. If it was there and they took it, I didn't know anything about it. That wouldn't fly?

DUKE: No. And actually the law says known or should have known. So the fact that you have a party going on downstairs and you're upstairs watching a video and there's 100 guests down there partying is -- your defense that you didn't know wouldn't fly.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Beth, how is a gathering defined in San Diego social host ordinance?

SISE: Well, in the county law, it simply says a gathering, I party. The law that they have on the books for the City of San Diego says a gathering of three or more folks where underaged drinking is taking place. So you have to have at least one minor drinking at the place who's not your own child.

CAVANAUGH: And the ordinance applies to the person who is the owner of the residence?

SISE: The person who owns or controls the private property.

CAVANAUGH: And control, Patty, could that be an underaged person too?

DUKE: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: How would that work?

DUKE: Well, you could have a 21-year-old hosting a party, and the partygoers are under the age of 18. They're responsible for that.

CAVANAUGH: When would a parent not be responsible under the social host ordinance? If they were out of town?

DUKE: Yes.

SISE: Yes. Or if they were, say, out for an evening, and their son or daughter who was at least age 18, but maybe not 21, was around and had all these folks come to their party and underaged drinking was taking place, that person could be cited. You don't have to be an adult over 21 to be cited.

CAVANAUGH: And what are the penalties if you are convicted of this social host ordinance?

DUKE: Well, you could be cited, or arrested. You could be fined up to $1,000 and/or serve up to six months of jail, and also you could be billed for our cost recovery. We are aggressively enforcing social host, and those that violate will be arrested.

CAVANAUGH: Arrested, okay. That'll get somebody's attention, huh?

DUKE: Well, we hope so.

CAVANAUGH: Break it down for us, if you would, Patty. How is this ordinance enforced? How would law enforcement know if someone was breaking this ordinance?

DUKE: Well, typically, most of our calls are from folks that are calling in a noise complaint. And we respond, and then we realize that there is a party. They're very resource-heavy. We have to call in a lot of folks to assist us in parties. Most of the parties, we really drilled down to the data last year, and of the 70% of the parties that we responded to, there were 100 or more guests. So you can imagine, 53% of those were underaged and severely intoxicated. So that's very concerning to us that youth under the age of 21 are -- we're responding to parties where they're severely intoxicated, where they're either unconscious, they're vomiting, they require medical assistance, and death can talk about that.

CAVANAUGH: And are there adults present at these parties?

DUKE: Yes, yes.

SISE: I'd like to add that 1/3 of those 100 partygoer parties that the sheriff's county had on the records these were hosted, 1/3 of them, by parents.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let me ask you both. Some parents say, you know, young people are going to drink. I'd rather have them drink in my home so I can monitor it and I can keep the kids safe. Beth, why is that a problem?

SISE: It's a dangerous myth to believe one is just providing a safe place for the kids to drink. There is no safe place for underaged drinking. Underaged drinking is an inherently dangerous activity. We know the drinking partier gets into a car and crashes, fights or rapes ensue. Alcohol poisoning, the results can be deadly.

CAVANAUGH: And you're speaking from --

SISE: The trauma center.

CAVANAUGH: From what you see at the aftermath of a party like this.

SISE: Yep. But we are just the tip of the iceberg. We know from California healthy kids survey, for example, medical is readily available. 75% of 11th graders in San Diego County report alcohol is easy or fairly easy to obtain. It's a real problem. Almost 1/3 of the youth under age 21 admitted for motor vehicle crashes at my trauma center had alcohol in their system. The average content was twice the adult legal limit, .16. So they're getting alcohol fairly easily. Typically the social access points, typically their home or another home of their friend. And they're drinking heavily.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Patty, I'm wondering, if you're a host, and you see that there are underaged people who have been drinking at your party, what should you do? Obviously the ordinance has been, technically at least broken, but you were unaware of it, and you want it to stop, so do you take care of those children who are inebriated in your home?

DUKE: Well, first of all, you want to limit or take away the access to the alcohol. Then you want to call us. Just call 911 or the nonemergency number, and we'll come and help you. That's what we want you to do. We want folks to call before a party starts. There are students speaking out. We're encouraging students to be part of the solution. And that's a hotline where students can call us and tell us if there's a party going to occur. Crime Stoppers is one as well, and 911 if needed.

CAVANAUGH: So they should call if they have some problem with underaged drinking at that time.

DUKE: Early.


DUKE: It doesn't take away -- we've had folks call after it's gotten out of control, and that's not a freebie.