River Forest parents who turn a blind eye to underage drinking could face steep fines, courtesy of a new local law.
In April, the River Forest Village Board passed a "social host" ordinance, designed to curb underage drinking and drug use by penalizing parents or caregivers who host parties and allow under-agers to imbibe.
“Our goal is not to catch kids. It’s about finding out what they’re doing early so we can intervene and try to stop the behavior before it comes a big problem," said Kristine Raino-Ogden at the April 26 meeting where the measure was passed.
Raino-Ogden is part of the newly named IMPACT group, a local anti-drug grassroots organization that urged River Forest officials to create the law.
Under the new law, which passed with a 4-0 vote, parents, homeowners and caregivers who haven't taken "reasonable steps" to avoid underage drinking gatherings — defined as three or more people who've assembled "for a social occasion or other activity" — could face hefty municipal fines.
A PDF version of the social host ordinance accompanies this story.
Those "reasonable steps" include controlling access to alcohol, controlling the quantity of booze, asking for ID from party attendees and calling the police if those under 21 are found to be drinking or using drugs.
The ordinance also calls for penalties even if the underage drinking takes place when parents aren't home.
Under that scenario, the parent or caregiver could be mailed a ticket and ordered to show up for an adjudication hearing and plead their case — essentially trying to prove they took reasonable steps to avoid a party — in front of an adjudicator, in this case Perry Gulbrandsen, a retired Cook County judge who Interim Police Chief Gregory Weiss called "as impartial as possible."
The local adjudication system for social hosting violations isn't in place yet. Until it is, tickets issued for them will be heard in the Maybrook courthouse.
Weiss also said a teen who hosts an unsupervised drinking party should call the police to disrupt a small gathering that threatens to swell into a full-on bash, the better to avoid a neighbor calling police instead. Why?
"If we become aware of it, we can cite the host," he said.
But does the police chief really think teens will call the cops on their own party?
"It would be a very strong teenager to do that. It would take a lot of guts to do that," he said. "If it gets out of hand...if they call for our help then we'll help them."
Help? As in getting an illegal consumption ticket?
"Right," Weiss said. "They might still be cited but they can use [their call to police] as a mitigating factor [in adjudication]."
Offenders will face a maximum fine of $750. First time offenders may be ordered to perform community service for up to 40 hours instead of paying all or part of their fine, but a $50 fine may accompany a community service sentence.
Those fines would be in addition to possible criminal charges.
A decision on whether or not parents can be held civilly liable for an accident or death that occurs at a hosted party where underage drinking has taken place is under consideration by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Raino-Ogden said the ordinance "breaks some of the normalcy” associated with drinking and marijuana use as a “rite of passage."
"This [ordinance] sends a clear message....that at least the officials in our village believe this is no longer acceptable and this rite of passage is passé."