Momentum is building to make Prior Lake the next Twin Cities suburb to enact a "social host" law, making people criminally liable when minors are allowed to drink alcohol at their homes.

A community task force examining a range of threats to public safety has decided that drugs and alcohol are among the most urgent -- and has listed a new law targeting social hosts as one of the most useful responses.

"Kids won't say where they got the alcohol," Prior Lake Police Chief Bill O'Rourke told members of the City Council Monday night. "And unless we or someone witnesses it, the charge won't stick. With 'social host,' whether you provided it or not, if it happens in your house, and you knew it, you should be responsible to do something about it."

Echoing concerns raised in other communities that have taken up the topic, Council Member Steve Millar said he supports the idea but wants to "be careful how it is used. How do you prove a parent is aware? They could be upstairs sleeping."

Scott Knight, chief of police in Chaska, the community that pioneered the concept in the Twin Cities last September, said in an interview that Chaska has pursued at least a dozen cases since then. But they have not taken the form that many people might assume.

Although the law is sometimes described as being aimed at parents, he said, in reality only one parent -- a stepfather -- has been targeted in Chaska. Otherwise, "It's been kids, or some knuckleheaded 21-year-old who says, 'Bring the stuff to my apartment!'"

The stepfather, he said, wound up pleading guilty, partly because the teens involved admitted his role, and partly because "we had him on video, in the store, buying it -- there was not a whole lot to contest," Knight said. "But the mom truly did not know and was not charged.

The law is useful to police, he said, because "no law addresses the person who provides the venue. Someone says, 'Come over, use my place, but you got to bring whatever.' Pretty soon the noise leads to police being called, but because the host says 'they brought it all,' you're free -- you didn't do any of that."

After an initial surge of interest, relatively few Minnesota communities have enacted similar laws.

But advocates are doing their best to promote the idea: The nonprofit Minnesota Institute of Public Health, for instance, has invited Chief Knight to address a December conference called "Shutting Off the Tap to Teens."

Prior Lake Mayor Jack Haugen raised the issue in his community late last year. But in the end he agreed to refer it to the newly created task force, which plans to examine a range of threats to public safety in the wake of news last fall that the city was about to become home to a Level Three sexual predator.

David Peterson • 952-882-9023