Marin Voice: Agencies working to raise awareness of social host ordinance

San Rafael police Chief Diana Bishop speaks to a visitor in her office in this 2012 photograph. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)

In 2013, the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services contracted with the San Rafael Police Department to perform additional juvenile party patrols, bar compliance checks, DUI patrols and minor decoy operations.

Funding for the San Rafael Alcohol Compliance Team was provided by a federal grant, which has also allowed the San Rafael Police Department to increase its enforcement of and education around its social host ordinance, which is similar to ordinances throughout the county.

The ordinances are in place in all Marin cities and the unincorporated area of the county; they hold adults responsible for hosting youth drinking parties in their homes, whether or not adults are present, and carry fines of up to $750.

Marin County enacted its social host ordinance after the tragic drunken driving deaths of two young men (ages 18 and 19) in 2005. That same year a San Rafael High School senior was sexually assaulted by three classmates at an underage drinking party.

In an effort to dramatically increase awareness of the social host ordinance, Health and Human Services and the Marin County Office of Education are working together to send out letters to all parents of middle and high school students in Marin County, explaining facts about the ordinance as a proven tool in reducing underage drinking, and increasing communication efforts to keep our youth safe.

A first-ever Marin County Parent Norms Survey shows that a majority of parents are concerned about youth substance use, and have discussed family rules or values about not using drugs and alcohol.

And although most parents believe their kids aren’t drinking, the California Healthy Kids Survey shows that many are. Slight reductions in use have been reported recently, but with many youth still reporting that they are drinking, and mostly accessing alcohol at parties, our work is far from over.

We hope that as more parents and adults become aware of the law and help ensure no youth are drinking on their property, we can see fewer social host ordinance violations in the future.

We are aware that especially as they grow older and begin driving, our youth will travel throughout the county and beyond, so this countywide effort is all the more valuable in presenting a united commitment among parents, schools, law enforcement, community coalitions, and the county of Marin to help ensure our youth reach adulthood safely.

At the first countywide School and Law Enforcement Partnership meeting of the school year, both English and Spanish-language social host ordinance packets were distributed to educators, community partners and members of law enforcement. A list of contacts for underage substance abuse prevention coalitions was included so that anyone seeking more information can contact their local coalition.

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Active participation from the community is vital to this initiative’s success, and establishes a strong network for supporting the development and implementation of new policies that can further protect our youth from harm.

With prescription drug abuse on the rise, and proposed legalization of marijuana on the ballot next fall, the more we are aware of the realities versus perceptions in our community, the better equipped we will be to work together toward a healthier future for our youth and our entire community.

The San Rafael Police Department is proud to collaborate with county Health and Human Services and surrounding law enforcement agencies. We look forward to seeing further reductions in underage drinking and substance use as a result of our partnership.

For information on social host ordinance enforcement and substance abuse prevention coalitions in your corner of Marin, please visit: https://www.marinhhs.org/programs-services

Diana Bishop is chief of the San Rafael Police Department. Connect with the San Rafael Alcohol Compliance Team online via its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SanRafaelACT

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