CLARK, NJ – Minors in possession of alcohol were the guests of a 23-year-old township man when Clark Police were called to the scene of a backyard party by an observant neighbor on a recent Friday night. Approximately 30 people were gathered at the home on the west side of town.
The homeowners were not on the premises and had no knowledge the party was taking place, Clark Chief of Police Pedro Matos said. The 23-year-old party host was charged with a disorderly person’s offense.
Four juveniles on the scene were taken into short-term custody by police until their parents could pick them up.
“We do this for the safety of the child, so the child does not end up in more danger before the parents can get them,” Matos said.
Although most of the party-goers were over the age of 18, only a few were over 21, the legal age for alcohol consumption. Therefore, Matos said, they face charges of underage possession of alcohol.
According to Matos, Clark police respond to two or three of these types of incidents each year.
Juveniles found in possession of drugs or alcohol are required to meet with one of the town’s juvenile detectives, Matos said. The detective will decide whether or not the juvenile is charged with possession. At the officer’s discretion, first offenders may instead be assigned to community service and/or be required to attend alcohol abuse counseling.
So what can parents do to keep their children out of underage alcohol situations?
Matos suggests that parents know who their children are hanging out with and where they are spending their time.
“Parents should trust their children, but verify,” Matos said. “If something doesn’t seem right, is out of the usual routine, out of place and not somewhere they usually go, then something is probably up and parents should ask more questions.”
“Children face peer pressure and they need to understand that it may not be their intention, but teens can OD on alcohol, or drive drunk and seriously hurt of kill someone and these things have lifelong ramifications,” Matos added.
Police are required by law to notify a child’s school, either public or private, if the child is found in possession of alcohol or drugs during non-school hours. School counselors often follow up with students to be sure they get any services they need in connection with the incident.
“We prefer to be more proactive with our students and parents instead of reactive,” Clark Superintendent of Schools Edward Grande said. “We do this by offering various informational programs throughout the school year to educate parents and students about topics related to drug use and teen drinking.”
Matos encouraged parents to build a relationship with their teens and talk about the issues of underage drinking and drug use. He said families should have a plan in place so children can seek their parents’ help to get out of a potential problem situation.