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Teenage drinking in rural America.

Emergency dispatchers receive a call from a citizen who states that she heard gunshots and now sees a body lying in the street. The citizen further advises that she can see an armed man in the house across the street. While still on the phone, she hears additional gunshots.

When officers respond to the location, they hear gunshots coming from inside the home. They take up positions around the house and ask the subject to surrender. The 16-year-old subject emerges voluntarily. Officers then discover that he shot and killed two of his neighbors, as well as one neighbor's mother. In addition, he used his rifle to strike two small boys.

After the arrest, tests revealed that the blood alcohol level of the suspect was .19. The suspect had no other drug in his system at the time of the shooting.

The above scenario occurred in the rural area of Glendive, Montana, where officers must sometimes deal with juveniles who commit property crimes and murders while under the influence of alcohol. Unfortunately, some law enforcement officers place a low priority on offenses that involve minors possessing alcohol. Many times, the officers simply confiscate the alcohol and send the offenders home; other times, they ask only that teens attending parties where alcohol is available to keep the noise level down. As Jill Vejonoska of the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information states, "Americans have been slower to face the problem [of alcohol] as it relates to teens."(1)

However, as a result of the above shooting incident, leaders of the Glendive Police Department decided to address the growing problem of alcohol use among area teenagers and the crimes committed by intoxicated teens. This article discusses the plan that the department developed and the additional training officers needed to implement the plan.


To begin, department personnel developed a three-part plan. The plan calls for enforcement of alcohol-related offenses, education of teens and parents, and alternative activities for teenagers.


Prior to the implementation of this plan, alcohol offenses by teens were not considered high priorities. Now, however, department leaders consider enforcement of these offenses a primary consideration in terms of allocating both personnel and finances.

Officers began the new enforcement program by developing informants between the ages of 18 to 21 who purchased alcohol illegally and then served as witnesses during trial. In one typical operation, officers placed a voice monitor on a female informant. The teen, who carried no identification, then went to all establishments within city limits that sold alcohol. Even though she was underage and could produce no proof of legal age, the informant purchased alcohol from a majority of the businesses. Those who sold alcohol to the informant were charged with selling alcohol to a minor. All but one of the defendants pled guilty or were found guilty in court.

Department leaders recognized two important facts as a result of this investigation: Minors could easily purchase alcohol within city limits, and there was a need to train employees of establishments that sell alcohol. Departmental personnel then began to focus on these problems.

To begin, department managers assigned officers to conduct seminars for the employees and managers of establishments selling alcohol. The 2-hour seminar covered such topics as the law controlling the sale of alcohol, how to spot false identification, and how to develop a log to monitor alcohol purchases.

These logs, now used voluntarily by some stores, list the individual's name, date of birth, and the type and amount of alcohol purchased. The false identification used by juveniles generally includes their true identity but lists a fake age. By using these logs, officers can check with the motor vehicle bureau to determine whether the age listed is true. If they find otherwise, they arrest the juvenile.

Department leaders were also concerned with individuals of legal age who purchased alcohol for minors. They were able to build cases against these individuals by obtaining information from teens in the town, as well as from tapes taken from surveillance cameras located in the stores. Officers then used these tapes as evidence in court.

To further discourage the practice of obtaining alcohol for minors, the city judge stiffened the penalty for this offense. Individuals found guilty now receive jail time, as well as fines of up to $500 per count.


The second part of the plan involved educating teenagers on how alcohol affects their lives. However, it soon became apparent that officers also needed to educate the parents on how the consumption of alcohol could impact the lives of their children.

Teen Education

Department managers knew that the Montana Board of Crime Control (MBCC) obtained funds from the Federal Government to use in the drug and alcohol education of students. Therefore, they requested a 1-year grant to cover the costs of training and paying the salary of an officer to work exclusively on the teen alcohol problem in the city. The department received the preliminary funds, as well as funding for another 2 years.

Because a study conducted by the MBCC indicated that the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) Program seemed to have the greatest impact on students, managers sent an officer to a 2-week seminar on the program. This seminar included methodology of teaching, lesson plan preparation, and how to handle classroom discipline problems.

When the officer returned from the seminar, he worked with school administrators to set up the DARE Program. This program became a State pilot project because it was the only State-funded program that taught school children from kindergarten through fifth grade. All other programs targeted only the fifth and sixth grades.

This program, now in its second year, has been well accepted by both the students and the school staff. While still in the early stages, the department has noticed a slow, but steady, decrease in the number of teens arrested for possession of alcohol.

Parent Education

Law enforcement must also educate parents on the potential dangers of alcohol consumption by their children. A recent study revealed that 67 percent of teen suicides involve a history of substance abuse,(2) and alcohol seems to be the most common factor in these suicides.

The first step toward educating parents involved establishing a core group of adults that included parents of teens, counselors from both the high school and the elementary school, and law enforcement officers. This group decided to unite individuals from all the social services that work with the problems related to teenage drinking.

Now, professionals from juvenile court, justice court, mental health and drug and alcohol evaluation centers, school officials, family services, legal services, and law enforcement come together to discuss the problem of teenage drinking as it relates to their respective professions. During the first of these meetings, the group found that some of the minors convicted on several counts of alcohol possession were not getting drug and alcohol counseling. This was a problem because officers sometimes referred cases to the justice courts. And, because the justice courts do not have the authority to require inpatient treatment--only youth courts can require such treatment--minors who were in obvious need of counseling were not getting the help they needed. Officers now check on the number of prior offenses for the arrested individual before deciding which court should adjudicate the case. By doing this, they ensure that those in need of counseling receive the necessary help.

The core group has also established a working relationship among professionals who contend with the teenage drinking problem. Through this group, a town meeting was scheduled to educate parents on the problem from their perspective. The representatives also held a workshop to answer specific questions in their areas of expertise that needed to be addressed on an individual basis.

Alternate Activities

With the first two parts of the plan in place, department managers turned their attention to part three--alternative activities for city youths. A board of volunteer citizens worked with the department to implement this part of the plan.

The board first sponsored two pilot events at times they believed young people were most likely to use alcohol--Halloween and New Year's Eve. The board raised over $3,000 in money and prizes from tavern owners and other area merchants to use for youth parties at these critical times of the year.

The Halloween party--attended by over 600 youths--included a movie and snake dance (where all the youths join hands to form a snake-like procession) to a local youth center for preschool and elementary school children. Participants at the junior high school or high school levels were divided into teams for a scavenger hunt. An adult accompanied each team to act as a referee.

The party also included drawings for prizes. The prizes consisted of T-shirts, gasoline gift certificates, six-packs of soft drinks, and bags of candy.

A New Year's Eve dance, attended by approximately 80 youths, was another activity offered by the board. During the dance, youths could win gasoline gift certificates in drawings held every 15 minutes. The board also allotted $25 cash for a drawing at midnight.


In order to implement this ambitious plan effectively, the Glendive Police Department had to change some long-held training practices. For example, police departments in rural areas such as Glendive generally concentrate on reactive training for their officers. This type of training allows officers to conduct effective crime scene searches and interviews, make successful arrests, and give effective testimony. However, department officials realized that any plan to confront the problem of teenage drinking would require that Glendive police officers take a new, proactive stance in their work.

This, in turn, led to additional training on proactive investigative techniques. Officers learned to conduct surveillances and organized raids of house parties. They also learned how to control informants and disperse funds.

In addition, officers attended a 2-day training school on how to use, monitor, and record voice transmissions. The school also included training on the laws governing the use of such equipment.


This program has been well accepted by both the citizens and school administrators. In fact, the program has been so successful that the City of Glendive and the school system now provide the funds necessary to maintain a DARE officer.

Most important, however, city youths see the benefits of the program. Student council members advised department officials that it is now much more difficult to obtain alcohol illegally within city limits.

In the 4 years the program has been in existence, the number of alcohol-related arrests among 13-to 15-year-old juveniles has decreased dramatically. This drop indicates that the decreased availability of alcohol in the city, coupled with the DARE Program, which was instituted when these juveniles were in elementary school, has impacted positively on the problem of juvenile consumption of alcohol.

In addition, attendance at the alternative activities has increased. Juveniles in the city seem to enjoy the activities, and a major goal is accomplished by occupying juveniles in activities where they remain alcohol-free.

Glendive citizens and officials continue to reevaluate the program and make any necessary adjustments. One critical change may involve continuing the DARE Program past elementary school into both junior high school and high school. This will serve to reinforce what the children learned at an earlier age.


Glendive's three-part plan brought law enforcement together with the community to protect one of its most precious assets--its young people. The plan forced both officers and citizens alike to acknowledge a problem that previously went unnoticed.

Even though much of the plan does not include traditional police work, it produces excellent results and may serve as a model for other departments nationwide. In order to ensure success, however, police managers must emphasize the necessity of assuming a proactive stance in responding to the problem. This means that officers should receive training in critical, proactive programs, such as DARE. These programs allow officers to become more personally involved in the lives of the citizens they serve, resulting in a cooperative effort between the community and the police that benefits all.


(1) Jill Vejnoska, "Putting the Brakes on Teenage Drunk Driving," The Police Chief, December 1982.

(2) Bo Reneson, "Psychoactive Substance Use Disorder in Youth Suicide," Alcohol & Alcoholism, 25, 561.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Author:Williamson, Ed
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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