By Heidi Bevington–Adults who buy alcohol for teens are at the bottom of Masset’s recent wave of youth crime, according to a local mom.
“The booze is coming from adults and they should be ashamed, when a child is abused, in the hospital for alcohol poisoning or in trouble as a result of the alcohol, it is the fault of the adults giving it out or selling it to them,” said Gina Schnubb, who has been patrolling the streets of town on weekends for the last month, along with about ten other parents, to help teens stay safe.
Alcohol and drugs are a big factor in the increased police work, says RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Andrew Isles. He recently told a group of concerned citizens that the number of young people involved in the courts in the north end has increased by 51-percent since last year, and he says police files overall have increased significantly this year, to 2,270, up about 600 from last year. He expects the increase to continue until the end of the year. And drugs and alcohol are factors in 80 to 85-percent of them, he said.
Alcohol is a big problem for youth, and it’s available in too many places for police to monitor. As well as the liquor store, booze is available through off-sales at the bar, the cold beer and wine store and at special occasions like dances and fundraisers. Line-ups form before opening outside retail outlets, said Sgt. Isles. They’re busy places, and any one of the customers could be buying for kids.
Since the community meeting on youth crime last month, a group of about ten Masset and Old Massett parents decided to act, and have been patrolling town by car and on foot.
“We patrol on weekends not to cause problems and make trouble in the community but to try and prevent the problems. Alcohol is a growing concern amongst the teens, and we just don’t want to see anyone get hurt. No parents would want anything bad to happen to their children. We as a community have to try and keep our children safe,” said Ms Schnubb.
About four bootleggers, all men in their late 20s and early 30s, have been buying booze for kids and drinking with them, with girls between the ages of 13 and 15 being targeted, according to Ms Schnubb.
She guesses about half the teens at the high school are involved in risky behaviour. “The teens aren’t bad. In most part, we enjoy talking with them, making sure they are okay and giving them a ride home,” she said. One problem is there’s not enough for kids to do, and she suggests funding for the teen centre and nights alive program would help reduce the problem. “The teen centre and arcade should be commended for providing a safe, warm place for the teens to hang out. Without the volunteers at both places, who knows what it would be like for the kids?” she said. She also thinks kids need more structure. She’s driving kids home as late as 3:30 in the morning.
Michelle Racette is another mother who hopes to help teens by getting out on the street.
“These kids need to come up with something else to do besides hanging around,” said Ms Racette.
She agrees more teen activities are needed. Jobs are another issue, she said. It’s hard for youth to find work in Masset, and once a kid has been in trouble it become especially difficult. “Some of these kids need a second chance,” she said.
“This is their town, their future,” said Ms Racette. “They need to have some respect to keep this going.”
Sgt. Isles agrees it’s important for kids to have a place to go, but it needs to be properly supervised. “Parents need to know what their kids are doing and be engaged. If they suspect drug and alcohol abuse, they need to confront the teen,” he said. The community doesn’t have a lot of local resources that parents can go to for help, but a lot of good information is out there in books and on the web, he said.
Since alcohol is so much of the problem, Sgt. Isles is taking steps to make sure events with alcohol are run correctly. Sgt. Isles said he’s making himself unpopular by cracking down on infractions in the bars and at special occasions.
Special occasion licenses are given out to people for events like fundraisers, dances and weddings. A person with a Serving It Right ticket has to be present at the event to supervise. The police approve three or four special occasion licenses per month. “We’re trying to be vigilant about how these things are run. We have revoked a couple because of a history of infractions,” he said.
Sgt. Isles has asked the liquor inspector to come to Masset to meet with people with Serving It Right tickets and review the proper running of a party. He expects the inspector to visit Masset in the next couple of months.
Another problem is the culture of secrecy in the community, said Sgt. Isles. “People who are selling booze and drugs are being shielded because people don’t feel comfortable coming forward and reporting them.”
For youth crime to be reduced, people have to get more involved with youth, said Sgt. Isles. Volunteering at the teen centre or participating in a Citizens on Patrol program are two ways for parents and community members to get involved he said. People also need to stand up and be vocal about new liquor permits. “What happens will depend on the tolerance of the community.”
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