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St. Paul Park looks to deter underage drinking

St. Paul Park police want the city to join a growing number of metro cities holding party hosts legally responsible for underage drinking.

The St. Paul Park City Council expressed support for Police Chief Mike Monahan's recommendation Monday that the city consider passing a social host ordinance that would hold party hosts responsible for underage drinking that occurs at their residence - whether or not they supplied the alcohol.

It is a step a number of metro cities - including neighboring Cottage Grove - have taken in recent years to curb underage drinking and the party hosts that enable it.

"I hope it's a deterrent for, hopefully, people to stay safe," Monahan told the Council during a workshop earlier this week.

Under the city's current ordinances, Monahan said it is difficult to hold a party host accountable unless it can be definitively proven they provided alcohol to underage drinkers - something he said is often extremely difficult to do.

But the proposed ordinance, similar to the one the Cottage Grove City Council passed in the spring of 2010, wouldn't unduly punish parents who weren't aware underage drinking was occurring at their home, officials said.

That was a fear voiced by council member Tim Jones, who urged the ordinance make it clear that, for example, parents away on vacation wouldn't be liable if their teenager held a party at home while they were away without their knowledge.

"It's scary because ... parents could be held responsible for something they had nothing to do with," he said. Jones said he felt the social host ordinance "might not be necessary." But, he added: "I see the point."

Large parties and underage drinking aren't a huge problem in small St. Paul Park, Monahan said. But a social host ordinance would help police better deal with them when they do arise.

"Overall, is it going to be used a lot? I don't think so; two or three times a year, probably," Monahan said. "It's another tool in the toolbox we can use when it applies."

The City Council will vote on the proposed ordinance at an upcoming meeting.