Numerous residents raised concerns that a potential tool to combat teen drinking might be misused by police during a meeting this past Wednesday about a proposed social host ordinance (SHO).
The ordinance as drafted by Police Chief Paul Workman would penalize hosts for allowing minors to consume alcoholic drinks at parties in private homes. After first considering such an ordinance in May at the urging of the Laguna Beach Community Coalition, the council asked Workman to submit a revised version, addressing concerns raised by the public, for their review on Nov. 13.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Workman described the ordinance and how it addresses initial concerns.
The audience, comprised mostly of parents, questioned the proposal’s terminology, including the descriptor “knowingly” applied to hosts, and expressed fears about the scope of police authority in enforcing the measure should it be approved.
“My policy is not to try to persecute and prosecute members of our community just because they didn’t know kids were drinking alcohol in their home,” said Workman.
To allay fears, Capt. Jason Kravetz pointed out that in Irvine, with a population nine times that of Laguna Beach, only six citations were issued in the last year for SHO violations. Workman reiterated that the ordinance did not expand the latitude of police to find cause to enter private homes and that its intent was extra leverage on true offenders.
Nevertheless, the crowd of 40 or so residents in the room remained skeptical.
Resident and mom Tijana Hamilton questioned whether “knowingly” defined knowledge of a party or allowing minors to imbibe alcohol? She also questioned how officers could determine whether parents had forewarning. “What does a bad mother look like?” she asked.
A slew of comments followed, questioning the validity of data about underage drinking, the effectiveness of the ordinance in addressing it, definitions, and the restraint and discretion of the local police officers in enforcing it. Workman’s emphasis on his officers’ discretion in using the law only for the most egregious violations brought more concern than relief to many, who expressed a lack of faith in the goodwill of all cops.
As an example of the sort of mistrust residents feel toward police, one woman said she felt an implicit threat when called by an officer that stopped her long-haired son walking home after 10 p.m. After asking if she knew the time of curfew, he told her he could report her to child protective services.
“Why can’t we just table this ordinance and agree that what we really need to do is come together as a community?” asked one mother, summing up the consensus of the group.
“That hurts,” answered Kravetz after listening to several accounts of residents describing other unpleasant run-ins with local law enforcement. “We will certainly be talking about this tomorrow,” he added.
Workman said that anyone who felt the police had overstepped their authority at any time should report such incidents to him. He said the department’s policy is to discipline officers in such cases and had fired officers in the past for inappropriate behavior.
Those who favor the proposed law, which includes the school district, Mission Hospital and the Community Clinic, see it as one more tool the police will have to punish adults who allow underage drinking on their premises. Those opposed say that what little benefit the law might provide in pursuing scofflaws is outweighed by potential unintended consequences.
The audience included school board member Theresa O’Hare and council member Verna Rollinger, both part of the 35-member Laguna Beach Community Coalition, which includes 15 organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, Presbyterian Church and Pacific Recovery Center.
Also present were school board incumbent Jan Vickers and challenger Tammy Keces.
Workman still encourages the community to send him e-mails with their concerns at email@example.com by Oct. 16.