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ALBUQUERQUE -- Beatrice Medina is actually glad her 16-year-old son got busted. He was cited by the Albuquerque Police Department's Party Patrol three years ago at an underage drinking party for being a minor in possession of alcohol, or MIP.
Medina's son was ordered to attend alcohol-awareness classes and, after completing them, was placed on informal probation until his 18th birthday. No more citations in the interim, and he would have a squeaky-clean record.
"We're both really glad this happened," Beatrice Medina, who attended the classes with her son, said in a recent interview. "It was a real learning experience for him to see that his decisions could be lifechanging."
The younger Medina is one of thousands of Albuquerque teens to get MIP citations - many of whom end up getting their record cleared. That's because enforcing the law is only half of the Party Patrol's mission, said APD Capt. Conrad Candelaria, whose Southwest Area Command houses the patrol. The other part of the mission is what he calls "social intervention." That means, in the case of first offenders, the MIP citation will be dismissed provided the youth completes an alcohol-awareness class through ACE or ASPEN, or attends a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim impact panel. The ACE - which stands for Alcohol Community Education - program is relatively new. Its three-hour, classroom format started offering alcohol education classes about two weeks ago, said Terry Huertaz, the former state Mothers Against Drunk Driving executive director who is running the program.
In cases like Medina's, when the offender is under 18, the juvenile is placed on probation before the MIP citation goes away. For those between 18 and 20, offenders get a 90-day deferred sentence, and the ticket is not dismissed until the class has been completed.
The Metropolitan Court judge who is assigned the case has to agree, and not all of them do, court spokeswoman Janet Blair said.
From the beginning of January 2005 to July 1 of this year, Metro Court has handled 6,578 MIP cases, Blair said. She did not know how many of those were first offenses or how many have been dismissed or deferred.
"Judges have always recognized the seriousness of these offenses and applied appropriate sentences to defer future alcohol abuse," Blair said, adding that the individual judge determines whether to impose fines or court costs. "Those sentences can include probation or directing defendants to counseling and other court and community programs."
But Candelaria said the majority of first offenders get their citations tossed after completing one of the classes. The idea, he said, is a second chance.
"We're saying: 'Yes, you've made a mistake. But this is a first offense, so let's not allow there to be a second one.'"
Patrol's problems The Party Patrol generally works on calls for service - such as one reporting a loud or underage drinking party. There are occasions when the unit's officers will simply happen upon a party where kids are drinking.
But the Party Patrol has had a learning curve and has not been without controversy.
In 2005, the patrol broke up a party attended by Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero, and one of the unit's officers claimed Lucero made abusive comments, including threatening the officers with their jobs.
The case made headlines for weeks, but police were never able to substantiate the claims.
Police Chief Ray Schultz later apologized to Lucero in a letter. In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge William "Chip" Johnson ruled that three Party Patrol officers were guilty of a Fourth Amendment violation when they entered a woman's home in April 2005 without a search warrant. The action violated the woman's protection against illegal search and seizure.
In the months before the ruling, however, Party Patrol officers began using a form - different from the standard APD incident report - to document a bust made by the unit. It requires officers to list the grounds for the citation and whether consent was given to enter a residence.
Officers began using the new form after complaints against the unit prompted APD to hammer out some new procedures. The new form was created with the help of Albuquerque's American Civil Liberties Union affiliate.
In most cases, officers need consent before entering a home unless they have obtained a search warrant. But in the case of an emergency - such as a teen choking on his or her vomit - another crime being committed on the property or officers pursuing a criminal, police will enter without a warrant. Party Patrol officers also stopped the practice of busting every underage kid at a party - regardless of whether a teen was in possession of alcohol - commonly called "constructive possession."
The Alternative Sentencing Programs & Educational Networks, or ASPEN, classes are aimed at teaching kids about the dangers of alcohol abuse and drunken driving. MADD's victim impact panels give participants a bit more of a visceral experience, letting them spend time with those affected directly by DWI and their family members. The impact panels carry a $35 charge to the defendant, and the APSEN course costs $100. Huertaz said she agrees with the Party Patrol's "social intervention" approach - and her new ACE program plays directly into that. "I'm trying to come at the problem of underage drinking from a lot of different angles," Huertaz said. "There is some focus on drunk driving, and also some of the other effects of alcohol: depression, suicide, domestic violence, the costs of alcohol abuse, the laws and alcohol's effects on the developing brain. "When I was developing the curriculum (for the ACE program) I was looking at: If you can change someone's attitude, you can affect their behavior."
Party Patrol officers also take the alcohol-abstinence message into schools citywide, explaining what the patrol does, why kids are issued citations and what happens when someone doesn't cooperate with police. Schultz said the social intervention approach has been successful, and part of its goal is to prevent repeat offenses. "We have been extremely pleased with the continued results and success of Party Patrol and the intervention offered through the education and deferral process," Schultz said in an e-mail to the Journal. That's pretty much exactly how things turned out for Beatrice Medina's son. He's 19 now and, since getting his citation, was involved in Students Against Drunk Driving at his high school. The younger Medina has not gotten any more MIP citations and is considering a career in public service, his mother said.