U.S. grant for county aims to fight juvenile alcohol abuse


Howard county and state officials introduced yesterday a new federal grant aimed at fighting alcohol abuse among juveniles, and announced the renewal of two others designed to crack down on drug distribution and to rehabilitate first-time offenders.

"Underage drug and substance abuse are sad facts," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "Through cooperation, we'll make Howard County a better place to live in."

The grants all are aimed at reducing the neighborhood impact of alcohol and drugs by focusing on the activities and people at the center of the problem.

In all, about $130,000 will go to the county police and to the state's attorney's office from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, based on recommendations from the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission.

The new alcohol enforcement unit, to be operated out of the police department's Traffic Safety Section, will receive $37,210.

The renewed drug and first-time offenders programs will receive 25 percent of their funding from the Howard County Drug Forfeiture Fund, formed from assets seized from illegal drug activities.

The drug program, known as Police and Citizens Together, or P.A.C.T., is operated by the Vice and Narcotics Section and is in its second year. In addition to the forfeiture funds, it will be supplemented by a $47,627 grant.

The Drug and Alcohol Diversion Program, directed for its third year by chief assistant state's attorney Michael A. Weal, will receive a $44,931 grant, in addition to the forfeiture funding.

Sgt. Glenn Hansen, head of the Police Department's traffic enforcement section, said that the new alcohol abuse grant would be used to coordinate efforts with other county agencies and private groups so that more education programs can be offered throughout the county. Too often, he said, programs overlap.

The grant strengthens and supplements efforts by M.A.D.D., said Bonnie Cook, president of that group's Howard County chapter.

"It's long overdue," said Ms. Cook, whose group regularly works with county police and honors officers who make many drunken driving arrests. "It will help our efforts tremendously."

The new grant's goals include special training of three officers in detecting alcohol offenses; a "Partybusters" hot line, designed for the reporting of underage drinking; sponsorship of alcohol-free parties; and education of offenders, including tours to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

But the key part of the new effort is rehabilitation, where offenders found to be chemically dependent on alcohol are given counseling. In most cases in the past, young offenders were fined and ordered to do community service after consultation at Juvenile Services.

"Over the long term, we can reduce the number of high school students who drink and drive," Sgt. Hansen said. "We don't just want to go out and arrest everybody, but to let them know that they're hurting themselves and can be more productive."

The renewed P.A.C.T anti-drug program supports two county detectives to work directly on community-based solutions to drug use and distribution. One strategy is to use nuisance abatement statutes to evict known drug dealers.

The renewed Drug and Alcohol Diversion Program attempts to prevent first-time offenders arrested for marijuana and alcohol offenses -- except drunken driving -- from repeating similar violations. One aim is to help reduce the amount of minor cases on court dockets.

Mr. Weal said that 173 people, mainly 18 to 25 years old, have completed the program in its two years.

"That's 173 more who might have entered the criminal justice system down the road," he said. "Every single person we help, we're doing something."

He noted that just two of those who had been through the program were subsequently rearrested for similar offenses.

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