Teens who have been drinking may avoid charges if they call 911 during crisis

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JACKSON – If an underage individual who has been drinking alcohol does the right thing to help a friend during a crisis, he or she will not be prosecuted for consuming alcohol under the age of 21.

On April 23, the Jackson Township Council adopted an ordinance that amends the municipal code. Council President Robert Nixon, Vice President Barry Calogero, Councilman Ken Bressi, Councilman Alex Sauickie and Councilman Andrew Kern voted to adopt the ordinance.

The ordinance states that “an underage person and one or two other persons … shall be immune from prosecution under this chapter prohibiting any person under the legal age who, without legal authority, knowingly possesses or knowingly consumes an alcoholic beverage on private property” if:

• One of the underage persons called 911 and reported that another underage person was in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption;

• The underage person who called 911 and, if applicable, one or two other persons acting in concert with the underage person who called 911 provided each of their names to the 9-1-1 operator;

• The underage person was the first person to make the 911 report;

• The underage person and, if applicable, one or two other persons acting in concert with the underage person who made the 911 call remained on the scene with the person under the legal age in need of medical assistance until assistance arrived and cooperated with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on the scene.

The underage person who receives medical assistance will also be immune from prosecution under the ordinance which prohibits the possession or consumption of an alcoholic beverage on private property.

“The ordinance (amendment) was recommended by police officers in town who work in the schools,” Nixon said. “The concept behind it is to offer an alternative to criminal charges for underage drinking by establishing new fines instead.

“It also gives the officers another avenue to teach about the problems with underage drinking. Similar ordinances have been passed elsewhere in Ocean County and around the state.

“This was brought to me by members of the police department who work with our youth in our high schools. Certainly underage drinking is a serious problem no matter what generation it is. This new ordinance gives our police department alternatives to locking kids up.

“Giving them a teachable moment and ensuring that, God forbid, if there is a situation where somebody has had a little too much to drink, their compatriots know they can call 911 without fear of getting in trouble and would be doing the right thing by reaching out to first responders for help,” Nixon said.