The APD Party Patrol genuinely seemed like a good bunch of people. And so well-behaved. Of course, I was a reporter with a microphone in my pocket, but all the same they seemed perfectly pleased to have me along for the ride. It was fun that night, getting the chance to watch our local party busters in action, even though we didn't break up any raucous events. It gave me a newfound respect for their team—these guys really were the cream of the crop, hand selected to serve in the overtime program that was supposed to save teenage lives and keep the peace. They deserved the extra bucks they were making off the shift—they knew how to deal with kids—they were calm, respectful, yet authoritative (in a good way). All that extra training seemed to be paying off. And so when I wrote my story on the Party Patrol a few days later ["Laying Down the Law," March 24-30], that night stayed with me.
Unfortunately, I would soon discover that our mild-mannered police force isn't so mild after all. First, let me get something straight. I am not, nor have I ever been, a "party girl." I have one drink and I'm good for the night. (OK, maybe two.) I'm always the designated driver. I'm not against drinking; I just don't do a lot of it. I do, however, have a problem with out-of-hand, rowdy parties, especially when they're in the apartment below mine. So don't mistake me for someone who doesn't appreciate the subtleties of getting a good night's sleep, or for someone who's out to get vengeance on our local police force. I'm not.
Even though I'm not a party girl, that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the occasional fiesta. As fate would have it, two weeks after my story ran in the Alibi, I went to a going-away party for a friend of mine who's moving to Oregon. It was one of those cosmic events of a party. The atmosphere was laid-back, everyone was über-friendly, there were some tasty organic tortilla chips and salsa to snack on and good music. It was 12:30 a.m. and the host was just about to take down some of those speakers when, suddenly, the Party Patrol appeared in the living room. Don't even ask me how they got in—maybe someone let them in, maybe they just came in—I wish I knew. Once inside they asked for the owner of the house, my friend—which, by the way, they're supposed to do at the door, not in the living room. (Quick note: there are two Party Patrol teams in town; I rode with the one that didn't crash this party).
Now, when I was doing interviews with police officers for my story I asked them what the protocol was for over-age parties that are too loud. Their response, invariably, was that they were supposed to ask the owner of the house to keep things down, or turn off the music, or some such similar action. They reminded me that the motive of the Party Patrol isn't to crash adult parties—only to ensure that teenagers aren't getting wasted. So I assured my friends that everything would be OK; they'd probably check a few IDs and, realizing that there weren't any minors present, tell the owner of the house to keep things down. So I was surprised when, instead, the cops told everyone to start filing out the door and have their IDs ready—the party was over.
This didn't irk me too much because, even though this was an adult party, most people were in their 20s or 30s, and maybe the crowd looked a little young. Also, it was after midnight (on a Friday night) and perhaps the noise was keeping the neighbors up. If I was itching for sleep next door, I'd probably be eager for things to end, too. So, confident in the knowledge that I'd only had half a glass of wine at dinner six hours earlier and an ID that proved I was over 21, I happily informed the officer at the door that I would be driving my two slightly inebriated friends home, and that I just had to grab my ID from my car which was parked right out front.
That's when I started to get offended.
The officer looked me over like I was a smashed 16-year old with a compulsive lying habit, and put a flashlight in my face, followed by his finger, which he moved back and forth in an attempt to gauge my sincerity. Apparently not pleased with my performance, he rolled his eyes and sighed, and motioned for me to stand in the corner; we'd get my ID later. I watched the officers' behavior. For a minute I began to forget that we were, in fact, adults. Because instead of being treated like adults, we were treated like offenders—we had stayed out too late with the music too loud and now we were all children—being reprimanded by our local police force. Naughty, naughty.
I finally did get outside and prove my age, and when I did I was a little shocked to discover that they weren't checking people to make sure they could drive, something else which my interviews had assured me was standard protocol. (After all, they were trying to save lives, right?) They were checking IDs, but nothing else from the look of it. Later that night, I found out that they didn't bother to check a friend of mine before letting him drive, and he'd had several drinks that night, and was certainly over the legal limit.
Not only were officers not checking people, they were also practically shooing drinkers away. Take, for instance, a conversation that I noticed between four or five people standing on the sidewalk and an officer standing a few feet away on the lawn. The people, who were all drunk, were apparently without rides, and were waiting around to either get back inside to crash or sober up. This seemed to displease the officer. He told them to "Get outta here." A girl from the group asked him if he wanted her to stand in front of her car for a few hours while she sobered up. At which point came his response: "Just get outta here." He then threatened them, and told them that if they didn't leave he was going to arrest them, and that they could spend the night in jail eating a cheese sandwich (whatever that means). He added that he was trying to help them saying, "Don't you see how patient I am?"
A suggestion: Don't toss around the word "patience" unless you're willing to tolerate a few people standing on a public sidewalk for more than five minutes. Also, if you're going to evacuate a crowd of drunk people from a home on a Friday night, why not try calling them a cab? Or at least allow them to sober up before they drive?
A few days later I talked to the guy who had thrown the party. Apparently, there had been some minors there—three, to be exact. Actually, "minor" isn't even the right word, because they were all over 18, which technically makes them adults (or at least old enough to kill someone in a war and vote on the future of our country—but not have a beer). So no, they weren't "minors," but they were "underage."
Because of those three "underage drinkers" (who he didn't know or invite), he was slapped with a citation, on top of the one he got for a noise violation. He was leaving within the week, so it looked like he was going to have to fly back for a court date unless he wanted to pay up to $1,000 for his citations, and take on a possible felony charge for letting "underage drinkers" drink on his property, according to the cop who gave him the tickets.
At this point, half of you are probably nodding your heads; nothing new, you're thinking. The other half of you might be wondering what the big deal is. So the Party Patrol broke up an adult party, you say, so they didn't check everyone—most of those people would have driven drunk anyway. People deserve to get in trouble if they're making noise late at night. So what's the big friggin' deal?
Well, the big deal is this. The Party Patrol is supposed to be about helping the community by saving kids from themselves at an age when peer pressure, and hence stupidity, can be their strongest guiding force. It's supposed to be about the best trained cops knowing how to deal with teenagers, and helping them to make the right choice (even when they have no other one). It's not supposed to be about breaking up adult parties. And it's not supposed to be about doling out citations for everything you can justify, because you're trying to legitimize the fact that you broke into an adult party when you weren't supposed to. There's a thing called context.
The big deal is the fact that, not only are they letting people drive drunk (at least at this party, they did), but they're acting as one of the precipitating forces in getting those drunks on the road. They're kicking them out of a place where they may have actually stayed long enough to sober up. The big deal is that the Party Patrol seemed to believe that treating a group of adults like juvenile delinquents is going to help them earn their community's trust. To me, that's a big deal. But that's just me.