Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said although the city's new social host ordinance may not bring in a huge caseload, its real success will be clarifying vague state laws to help officers battle underage drinking.
The Steamboat Springs City Council approved the local statute Tuesday, after multiple revisions and months of on-again, off-again public debate in Centennial Hall. Rae said he expects the new law to be used less than 10 times throughout a given year, primarily at parties with underage drinking. But he and local prosecutors, including 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham, said the city's social host ordinance repairs loopholes and ambiguity in Colorado law, ultimately helping local police and attorneys in the ongoing effort to prevent minors from consuming alcohol.
After the ordinance goes into effect Friday, police will be able to hold homeowners or hosts responsible for underage drinking that occurs on their property or at their party. Finding the source of alcohol provided to minors is often challenging, Rae said.
"Unless they tell us, it's very difficult to determine where they got their alcohol from. Kids don't want to give up their resource," he said.
If parents aren't home when minors are drinking in their house and were unaware the drinking was happening, the host of the party can be charged under the city's new law, even if that person is a minor, Rae said.
"Someone is hosting that party. If it's an 18-year-old girl whose parents are out of town, this ordinance allows us to specifically hold her responsible," he said.
Under Colorado law, any person older than 10 could potentially be held accountable.
"The whole purpose of this ordinance is to clarify the vagueness and ambiguity in the current state statute," Rae said.
In a letter to City Council supporting the measure, Oldham echoed Rae's sentiment.
"Although the District Attorney's Office can prosecute adults for permitting underage persons to obtain alcohol ... the vagueness of the (Colorado) statute makes prosecution difficult," she wrote. "The (city's) proposed social host ordinance is preferable because the language is unambiguous, which is essential for successful prosecutions. Moreover, unambiguous statutes are more equitable because the public is on notice of behavior that is criminal."
Deputy District Attorney Carl Stahl agreed with Rae that the number of cases per year likely will remain low.
"I don't think it will be that frequent. Maybe a handful to a dozen cases per year, but those will probably be important because when you have those parties with underage drinking, what you have after those parties is underage driving," he said.
One method police will continue to use is the voluntary keg tag registration program, Rae said. During the past 13 years, liquor stores in Steamboat have participated in the program to give each keg a unique identification number. If found at a party, police are able to track the keg back to the purchaser, potentially holding him or her liable for providing alcohol to minors.
Rae said all liquor stores in Steamboat participate in the program. Cellar Liquors general manager Justin Rangel said his store just joined the program two weeks ago.
"It's a matter of just trying to help the community gain a little traction in their fight to track down who's supplying the alcohol and whatnot to the teenagers," he said. "It's a pretty easy and uncomplicated step we can take to help law enforcement crack down on that."
When a keg is rented, the purchaser fills out a form with basic name, address and phone number information. The clerk then writes down the number on the keg, and the paper is kept on file.
Rangel said keg rentals account for a very small amount of sales, about 1 percent at Cellar Liquors, and the stickers are removable, but the effort may help police. Even more so, he said, it's a good business practice.
"It's in our best interest at all times to make sure we're staying as diligent as possible at keeping the kids' community safe and doing everything we can as a retailer to help keep alcohol out of kids' hands," he said.