Police-community PACT keeps kids safe

16 years ago
By Kathy McCarty  
Staff Writer

   PRESQUE ISLE – A group of officials from across Aroostook County gathered recently in the Star City with one simple goal in mind – curtailing underage drinking among adolescent youth in the County.


ImageStaff photo/Kathy McCarty
    COMMUNITY officials from across Aroostook County gathered at the Presque Isle Police Department recently to discuss ways to prevent under-age drinking through P.a.C.T. (Police and Communities Together). Attending the meeting were, from left: Sheriff James Madore, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office; Chief Cyr Martin, Ashland Police Department; Chief Michael Gahagan, Caribou Police Department; Lt. Darrell Ouellette, Troop F, Maine State Police; Chief Naldo Gagnon, Presque Isle Police Department; Carol Bell, project director, Aroostook Healthy Maine Partnership, Aroostook County Action Program; Clare Desrosiers, MSW, Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention; Allison Heidron, project assistant, Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention; and Chief Butch Asselin, Houlton Police Department.  


    “We’re (law enforcement and community officials) are starting PACT – Police and Communities Together – in conjunction with “Parents Who Host, Lose the Most” – an effort to address the underage drinking problem,” said Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin.
   PACT is new to the County but not to Asselin, who developed the program while working in Skowhegan.
   “There’s potential for a lot of good to come of this. The program is designed to be used year-round,” said Asselin.
   Under the program, parents or guardians can enter an agreement with local law enforcement to check on adolescents when adults have to be away from home. Asselin said too often parents overlook children accessing alcohol when the parents are away, not taking into consideration the consequences.
   “A lot of parents don’t realize the outcome – ramifications like lawsuits, possible alcohol poisoning. They’re (the parents) doing a disservice to themselves and the community,” he said.
   “Many believe it’s ok as long as a parent is present but it’s not,” said Sheriff James Madore, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office.
   “Alcohol is still the number one drug of choice in the County,” added Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan.
   In one of the first joint activities of its kind, law enforcement personnel from several communities are teaming up to take part in the program, in an effort to prevent underage drinking. With prom and graduation season under way, officials believe now is an ideal time to put the program into action.
   “We’re banding together all across Aroostook County,” to address the problem of underage drinking, said Presque Isle Police Chief Naldo Gagnon. “We have representation here from state, county and municipal law enforcement.”
   Gagnon said parents can include names of those allowed on the premises while they’re away, as well as license plates for vehicles allowed at the home.
   “If an officer finds a person whose name isn’t on the list or a vehicle with a plate not on the list, they can request that party to leave and notify the parent or guardian of what they found,” said Gagnon.
   According to Asselin, Clare Desrosiers, MSW, Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP), was instrumental in getting the funding to make the project a reality.
   “I’ve submitted a grant application. Funds come from various areas, including the federal Drug Free Community program,” said Desrosiers.
   Under PACT, law enforcement agencies conduct random patrol checks of property if requested by a parent or guardian. The service is offered to any parent or guardian who will be away from their residence for an extended period of time and a child between the ages of 15-19 is remaining at the home. An extended period of time is defined as being out of town overnight or longer.
   “PACT patrols are unobtrusive and are not covered by a grant but as part of regular law enforcement duties,” said Asselin.
   And while it gives parents/guardians a way to ensure a child’s safety, the program also provides children supervision and support in saying ‘no’ to inappropriate behavior.
   “It gives the kids an out, knowing a form has been filled out and officers will be watching a home” said Allison Heidorn, project assistant, Aroostook Substance Abuse Prevention.
   “It’s community policing at its finest,” said Gahagan.
   Asselin credits County agencies for going above and beyond to ensure the safety of area youth.
   “What’s good about this is communities see there’s a need and officials go over and above to curtail underage drinking,” said Asselin. “No other county has done this – committed on a county-wide basis.”
   Also taking part in the recent meeting were: Ashland Police Chief Cyr Martin; Lt. Darrell Ouellette, Troop F, Maine State Police; and Carol Bell, project director, Aroostook Healthy Maine Partnership, Aroostook County Action Program.
   Parents or guardians must specifically request the service. Application forms are available through the above law enforcement agencies and there is no charge to the applicant. If officers discover underage drinking, reasonable attempts will be made to contact the parent or guardian. The agreement can be canceled by the parent or guardian at any time.