Conference focuses on underage drinking Rutland County students, police attend

RUTLAND - The Together We Can Reduce Underage Drinking Conference was held at the Rutland Holiday Inn last week. There were over 140 attendees, students involved in SADD Chapters throughout the state, police officers, court diversion staffers, health department substance abuse prevention specialists, community anti- drug coalition members and school student assistance providers.

About 35 of those attending were from Rutland County and they included Chris Greene, the Rutland City School resource officer, Deputy Bonnie Elrick, the Fair Haven Union High School resource deputy, Lt. Craig Hanson and Sgt. Jeff Stephenson of the Rutland County Sheriff's Department, and Senior Game Warden George Scribner of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, as local law enforcement professionals.

The first part of the conference was presentations by experts in the field. They spoke about new trends in underage drinking- new products, how parties are held, new laws or interpretations of the laws, and an analysis of the problem's frequency. One of the interesting outcomes was that a representative of the Vermont Attorney General's Office revealed that their office recently made a ruling that law enforcement officers who find underage drinking violations have discretion to advise schools and other institutions that their students were caught drinking. This can have a great impact on the student- they may be removed from a sports team, from the honor society, and from other after school activities. Additionally, in some schools, the students would have to attend counseling as a part of the school's policies.

The second half of the conference was when counties would get together to come up with strategies to deal with the problem locally. It was a great opportunity to brainstorm ideas an, in the past this conference resulted in the national-award winning Tuxedo Insert Program. Besides the police officers, community members in the Rutland group were: Betty Barnouw of Fair Haven United Neighborhoods, Emily DeCato and Tina Coltey of the Rutland Area Prevention Coalition, Brigid Sullivan of the Black River Area Coalition, RJ Elrick of the Vermont Police Academy, ADAP's Sarah Roy and Tara Reed and Bonnie Pratt of the Rutland County Court Diversion and Restorative Justice Program. Fair Haven Union High School's team, in addition to Bonnie Elrick, included SAP Ericka Valente and SADD members Emily Turgeon and Amanda Rummells. Proctor High School's team was Joyce Anderson, their new SAP, and students Taylor Trombley and Colleen Elrick. Stafford Technical Center's team was students James Reed, Kayla Stewart, Nate Hance, and Erika Stocker, and advisor John D'Esposito. Woodstock Union High School's group was Dean Gwen Hagenbarth, and SADD members Colin Hagenbarth, Alex Beda, Tracy Whittaker, and Sean Bjornsson. Lastly, Vicky Stone and Deb Choma made up the Castleton State College team.

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