Law enforcement officials urge county leaders to curb teen drinking by holding party hosts responsible for underage guests.
Momentum is building for Scott County to become the first in the metro area to adopt social host laws, which make people criminally liable for allowing underage drinking across its cities and townships.
"The chiefs of police and I have talked numerous times, and the county attorney, and we'd like to have one unified approach," Sheriff Kevin Studnicka told a packed gathering of top officials from across the county late last week. "Let's get everyone on board."
So far Prior Lake is the only Scott County city to adopt such a law. Mayor Jack Haugen assured his counterparts that it was done there more or less without dissent.
"I got two e-mails against it," he said. "There has been tremendous support from the community and the [city] council. But it was stressed that we would take this to you for broader support. Otherwise it just pushes the problem to someone else."
County officials are drawing up a model ordinance and will test the waters with township leaders before taking it to a county board vote that could impose the law on all the rural areas.
A number of police chiefs turned out at the meeting Friday morning in Prior Lake to voice support. Jordan's chief, Bob Malz, recalled the case of an underage drinker who wound up plowing into a semitrailer truck at top speed on Hwy. 169.
"We talked to the people who'd been in charge of the party where he'd been drinking, and they freely admitted he'd been doing it, but told us he'd 'brought the beer in from somewhere else' or something," he said.
None of the elected leaders present on Friday volunteered to lead the charge, but none discouraged the idea, either. Many had questions about how the law works.
The sheriff promised that law enforcement would use common sense in enforcing it.
"We're not lookin' for someone having a beer with their 20-year-old son at Christmas," he said. "But one parent should not be able to make the decision for another parent's child to allow them to drink while they're on their property."
County Attorney Pat Ciliberto said officials can expect to encounter misconceptions about the law.
"One is, 'If I'm not there at the time, how can I be held accountable?'" he said. "I've prosecuted cases in Scott County for 18 years and I've never seen a report from the men and women of our sheriff's office or police departments involving a case where someone was being looked at for prosecution where they didn't know. It has to be proven that they know."
Prior Lake Police Chief Bill O'Rourke said the law hasn't been used yet, a few months after it took effect there.
"It's not that kids aren't partying," he said. "But in the winter windows are closed and parties don't draw as much attention as in summer, when kids are out running around.
"People say, 'We have other laws,'" he added, "but what happens is, the squad pulls up to the party, and kids will never point the finger at who provided the alcohol. Sometimes we get lucky, but mostly they clam up and we can't prove it. With social host, we don't have to prove it. You can give your own child something to drink in your own home, but you have no right to give my kid something to drink in your home."
Once, he said, when cops turned up at a party, the kids locked the doors and refused to respond. Not about to bust a door in, the cops instead starting towing cars for parking violations.
"That," he said, "got them out to talk to us."
David Peterson • 952-882-9023