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Party Patrol is on the prowl

Summer brings warmer weather, longer nights and increased opportunities for celebrations. As a result, police find it is also a time of year when the number of parties increases, as does the number of underage drinkers.

Every year, there is at least one local underage drinker who is so intoxicated that police end up calling an ambulance to treat potential alcohol poisoning, said Sgt. John McSwain of the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) in North Bend.

The KCSO Party Patrol wants to keep that from happening this year - or at least decrease the chances.

During the summer months for the past eight years, the Party Patrol has had Eastside officers scour various cities in search of parties with underage drinkers. This year's Party Patrol efforts began last week and will continue through the summer.

"Party Patrol is a multiagency task force to combat underage drinking," said McSwain, now in his fourth year of involvement with the Party Patrol.

Basically, cities elect to have officers drive around various neighborhoods and Eastside cities specifically on the lookout for potential party locations with a focus on finding underage drinkers and the hosts who provide alcohol to minors. (While parents may provide their own children with alcohol, it is illegal for them to provide alcohol to other minors.)

Typically, only one or two officers respond to a party complaint and, baring obvious illegal activities, they may just tell the hosts to keep it down, end the party or provide a warning, McSwain explained.

During the Party Patrol season, unlike other times of the year, there are enough forces filtered into locating partiers that everyone involved and/or caught during an incident will, most likely, at least be cited.

"When these guys are out [on Party Patrol], their whole purpose in life is to find parties," McSwain said. "When not on Party Patrol, they have a different role."

This year, confirmed agencies include the Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Liquor Control Board and police officers from North Bend, Lake Forest Park, Woodinville, Sammamish, Kenmore, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue and Issaquah. The cities of Duvall, Carnation and Snoqualmie are not expected to participate.

The Snoqualmie Police Department said it does increase efforts during the summer months and encourages residents to report any parties and/or suspicious activities.

"We have to do what we can to educate the public," McSwain said, noting that a letter is also sent home with junior and senior high-school students to announce Party Patrol. "We get the message out there that there are consequences to underage drinking."

Last year, Party Patrol officers checked about 25-30 house parties in the north precinct area and about 100-150 outdoor locations. The north precinct (also known as precinct No. 2), is the largest KCSO precinct and includes all unincorporated areas and six contract cities north of Interstate 90 to Snohomish County, west to the city of Lake Forest Park and east to Snoqualmie Pass.

Traditional party hot spots locally include private homes, areas along the Tolt River, trails and forest service roads, though McSwain declined to be more specific.

Police made about 231 arrests in North Bend last year, about 90 percent of which were alcohol related.

At parties, those found to be between the ages of 18 and 20 in possession of alcohol are often cited and released at the scene to a sober driver, McSwain said.

Those younger than 18 are taken to the north precinct in Kenmore where a parent or guardian is required to pick them up. Anyone younger than 21 could be charged as a minor in possession of alcohol.

The host of the party and/or the alcohol provider(s) would most likely be arrested and charged with furnishing premises for minors to consume alcohol or providing alcohol to minors, both of which are gross misdemeanors that may involve up to a year of jail time and/or a $5,000 fine.

Prior to the Party Patrol's commencement, the police and state liquor control board officials use undercover operatives to attempt to purchase alcohol at various grocery and convenience stores.

This year, police cited about 39 percent of stores in the north precinct for selling alcohol to minors; a number comparable with years past.

McSwain said the biggest deterrent to underage drinking is good parenting.

"Know where your kids are; be a pest; be responsible," he said.

To report parties and/or underage drinking, call 911, the KCSO in North Bend at (425) 888-4433 or the Snoqualmie Police Department at (425) 888-2332.

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