MANATEE -- With prom season set to begin, local law enforcement is teaming up with the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition to intervene with youth abusing alcohol or illegal drugs.
Party Patrol is a combined effort of the coalition, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and Bradenton and Palmetto police departments. It hits the streets Saturday, according to a news release.
The project is funded by a four-year, $48,000 federal grant now in its second year, according to the coalition.
During the two prom weekends, officers and deputies will search for parties where there may be underage drinking.
"They are targeted to particular areas where students are going to drink socially," Rita Chamberlain, MCSAC associate director, said in the release. "This is a way for us to interfere early on in problem areas with students."
The Party Patrol will give teens caught with alcohol or illegal drugs two options: at
tend a six-week substance abuse family education program with their parents or face criminal charges. The goal is to intervene by identifying and discussing substance abuse and other issues.
"The important thing is that people take action, and they actually make the phone call," said Chamberlain.
Party Patrol addresses problems not new to the community, according to Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow.
"Teenage drinking is just a huge problem all over the country," Bristow said. "This time of year it's important to get the word out."
Tragedies as a result of underage drinking always hit close to home, he said.
"That is what we are hoping this does -- deter underage drinking," Bristow said. "We are hoping during this prom and graduation season to curb that."
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said Party Patrol is proactive.
"Anything the police departments can do to protect our children is worth pursuing," Radzilowski said. "The whole goal is to keep our kids safe. This is just another mechanism."
High school student deaths each year as a result of underage drinking are a harsh reality, he said.
"Everybody wants to say there is nothing more precious than our children," Radzilowski said. "So we have to pull out all the stops to protect our most precious assets, our children."
Palmetto Deputy Chief Scott Tyler said the program is a win-win for everybody.
While educating the community is important, the Party Patrol also ensures businesses are not selling alcohol to minors.
"We are going to look to stop that," Tyler said. "It's also important, although it's not a central mission, for parents to realize that it is illegal to throw house parties and serve alcohol to minors."
To report a party with underage drinking or youth substance abuse call CrimeStoppers at 866-634-8477 (TIPS). Cash rewards are available.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.