The Arkansas City Police Department is teaming up with community members to fight a common cause: underage drinking.
According to the ACPD, underage drinking has risen in the past couple years, and so have crimes associated with it; such as sexual assault.
The ACPD held a town hall meeting held in the on the Cowley County Community College campus Monday night. Ark City Police Chief Sean Wallace hosted the meeting and narrated the presentation. Several community experts were also invited to speak and answer questions at the end of the presentation.
All the speakers agreed that underage drinking is an important issue in Cowley county.
"Our youth are our greatest resource in this county," said Cowley County Undersheriff Don Reed. He said he was surprised to find that Cowley County was No. 1 in alcohol arrests out of 10 counties that he compared it to. Reed urged cooperation between parents, community members and law enforcement. "We've all got to work together to figure out how to fix this problem," he said.
State Sen. Greta Goodwin (D-Winfield) attended on an invitation from Wallace. She praised the ACPD for organizing the meeting.
"I pride you for putting together this meeting this evening, because we need to talk," said Goodwin. She said that "15.6 percent of 100 children" binge drink every week.
Wallace spoke to parents and audience members about the effects of alcohol; notably the effects that occur at each age level. The mind does not completely mature until age 24. Wallace called the 21 year old minimum a "good compromise" between 18 and 24. Wallace warned of the effects that alcohol can have on a person during their developmental teen years. He said that many of the decision making skills present in adults at ages of 21 and up are not there yet in teenagers.
"If you add alcohol to that developmental stage you only inhibit it," he said.
Wallace said that the number of rapes in the county have risen in the past three years , along with issued Minor In Consumption charges.
"There's a direct correlation between the two," he said.
Wallace warned that abuse of alcohol can lead to abuse of other drugs. "Alcohol is traditionally a gateway drug," he said.
Steve Lungren, an Ark City resident, parent and business owner said he was surprised by the statistics relating to underage drinking.
"Twenty-five percent of the kids have a problem, it's just that simple." Lungren urged parents to take a stronger role.
"Parents, it starts with us," he said. Lungren said that he has opened up an "information highway" with his children that allow him to talk about issues like underage drinking.
Jean Laymon, a panelist who works with troubled teenagers at Cowley County Mental Health echoed Lungren's sentiments on parenting.
"Kids drink because of lack of supervision, she said, adding, "An absent parent is a huge, huge factor in the kids that I see."
She said most of the adults she counsels for excessive DUIs have said they started drinking between the ages of 14 and 16.
All of the speakers condemned alcoholic parties hosted by parents.
"Parents that are allowing their kids to drink, or let their kids drink at home are simply not good parents," Laymon said. Reed echoed her statements. "Even when you have the best intentions these things just don't work out," he said, citing examples that he has seen in his career.
Teenagers were encouraged to speak out against drinking to their peers. "You can make a difference with just a simple message," said Wallace. Reed said that attention should also be focused on those who do not drink underage. "We've got a lot of good kids in this county who aren't in trouble, so let''s not forget them," he said.
One of the most personal accounts of drinking and its dangers came from panelist Rebecca Heimer, Ark City High School senior and president of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Heimer struggled with alcoholic parents.
"We never really lived a stable life." She said the issue of underage drinking was "very, very personal."
"Kids are our future and I don't want them to go down the same path that my parents did," said Heimer. SADD now has 234 members at ACHS. Heimer has been a member for four years.
Speakers praised the teenagers who attended the meeting. "You guys are the ones that say no, and you guys do make an impact on those around you," said Laymon.
"You are our most precious asset and resource," said Wallace, speaking to the teens.
There were some high school students in the crowd that appreciated what was being said.
High school senior Kip smith said "It does change your outlook. It gives you statistics to look off of."Senior Kosh Metzinger said "the statistics really stuck in my head. Number one (out of 10 counties), that's pretty bad."
source: Arkansas City Traveler