Winona police have another tool in their efforts to curb underage drinking, thanks to an ordinance the City Council approved Monday.
Council members voted unanimously in favor of a social host ordinance. The measure makes people criminally responsible for hosting gatherings where underage drinking occurs, regardless of whether they supplied the alcohol.
The ordinance makes the action a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Many community members, especially landlords, have been calling for such a measure for years to help control drinking parties, council member Gerry Krage said.
“This is for those who choose to look the other way or organize,” he said.
Police Chief Paul Bostrack advocated for the ordinance during an informational session with council members prior to their meeting, touting how it would assist officers. Similar provisions have been enacted in nearly 40 cities and counties across the state, and Winona County will likely soon consider a social host ordinance, Bostrack said. He cited Duluth, Minn., which has used it about 200 times since the city passed the provision in April 2008.
Winona police responded to about 260 loud party, noise or disturbance complaints in 2009, and 79 dealt with gatherings violating the loud party ordinance, often underage drinking parties.
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But very few of the hosts in those situations were punished, Bostrack said. Police could only hold the hosts criminally responsible if they could prove the hosts provided the alcohol, he said.
“Most partygoers don’t want to tattle … and it makes it very difficult to punish those who promote the environment,” he said.
If the social host ordinance had been effective in 2009, “quite a few” of those party hosts could have been charged, Bostrack said.
The new rule also should deter people who host parties where underage drinkers bring their own alcohol, council member Krage said.
“This also kind of controls the backpack brigade party,” where each person brings their drinks, he said.
In other action Monday, council members approved the purchase of nine new laptops and accessories for Winona police department squad cars for $65,333.50. The computers will replace laptops now in the vehicles, Bostrack said, noting that the computers allow officers to stay on the streets more rather than returning to the Law Enforcement Center to do paperwork.