Alton adopts ordinance combating underage drinking

Just in time for summer vacation, the Alton Police Department has a new tool to combat underage drinking.

On Tuesday, the Alton City Council unanimously passed a social host ordinance, a local law that holds adults liable for underage drinking that occurs on their property by fining hosts of underage drinking parties.

20190514 AltonsocialHostThe ordinance is identical to the one passed by the city of Palmview two years ago. Like that ordinance, Alton homeowners can face a $500 fine that can increase to up to $1,000 for repeat offenders.

“It gives the police department another tool when they approach parties that are out of control,” Alton City Manager Jeff Underwood said.

According to the Texas School Survey, alcohol is the most-used substance by youth with 22 percent of students in grades 7-12 reporting having access to alcohol at parties.

The ordinance was created after they city’s police department was approached by the Uniting Neighbors In Drug Abuse Defense Coalition, which partnered up with Palmview to bring the ordinance there. Melissa Alviar, coordinator for UNIDAD, said the ordinance will prevent several consequences that come with underage drinking.

“Whenever you have kids under the age of 21 and there’s drinking involved, there’s many things that come into factor,” Alviar explained. “Property damage, sexual assault, violent crimes, alcohol poisoning and DWIs, so we’re trying to deter those activities with this ordinance.”

Alton is the fifth city in Texas to pass this social host ordinance, joining Palmview San Antonio, Odessa, and El Paso, according to a news release from the city.

Alviar said Hidalgo County is so far the only county in Texas with two cities that have this ordinance and that UNIDAD is entering discussions with Weslaco and Donna to have the ordinance introduced in those cities.

“We are taking a proactive approach to combat underage drinking so local police departments can facilitate a better environment for the youth in the city,” Alviar said. “We’re trying to make sure we hold accountable the person that provides a location where underage drinking parties occur to better educate the community on these issues.

Alviar added that UNIDAD will provide training to Alton police officers on how to peacefully break up a party to prevent minors from fleeing the seeing under the influence and educate the public of the existence of the social host ordinance through health fairs and other community events.

“Underage drinking is a problem everywhere, so when you get to spring break or graduation, kids can get rebellious and consume alcohol,” Alton police Chief Jonathon B. Flores said. “When you couple that with their age and inexperience, that can cause problems for our community. These types of initiatives allow us to increase the amount of safety for our community members, that’s the overall goal, to keep them safe.”

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