Funded by Healthy Cattaraugus County: A Drug Free Coalition

By Jann Wiswall

Law enforcement has a major role to play in the county’s efforts to reduce underage drinking, but until recently, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Department has had limited resources to put toward the task. Now, with a $100,000 grant from Healthy Cattaraugus County (HCC): A Drug Free Coalition, the sheriff’s deputies are on patrol at key times to help keep underage drinking under control.

“We think of this as ‘educational enforcement,’” said Dave Schuman, a lieutenant with the patrol division of the Sheriff’s Office. “Our goal is not to jam up the kids, but to let them know that we’re watching and that, when they’re under 21 and drinking, they’re taking risks that can cost them in many ways well into adulthood.”

According to HCC, those risks include everything from health and brain development issues to expensive legal problems, difficulties in school and dealing with the consequences of making bad choices.

Consider these facts. Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.

• Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.

• Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.

• Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.

• Unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sexual activity.

• Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.

• Physical and sexual assault.

• Higher risk for suicide and homicide.

• Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries.

• Memory problems.

For its part, the Sheriff’s Office is making a point to be more visible on known party nights.

“In Allegany, Thursday is a big party night for St. Bonaventure students. So we put extra patrols there,” said Schuman. “Friday and Saturday nights we’re at the festivals and community events, as well as out looking for underage parties — particularly in the rural areas where there are no town or village police forces. Sunday nights are big party nights, too, especially in the Amish communities.

“Our hope is that if they know we’re out there watching for them, maybe they’ll decide the risk is too great and they’ll choose other, healthier activities to keep them entertained.”

Schuman acknowledged that kids who are determined to drink and party will find ways to do so.

“They get fake IDs or their older siblings buy alcohol for them. They learn how to hide what they’re doing and they’ll move the party if they have to. But we get tips by phone or email, so we try to keep up,” he said.

Schuman said that parents can be a huge part of the solution, but that sometimes they’re part of the problem.

“Some parents shrug their kids’ drinking off as something kids just do. ‘We did it when we were their age,’ many of them say. While it is legal for parents to serve alcohol to their own children in their own homes, it is illegal to allow other children to drink there or provide them with alcohol. In that case, they are not providing a safe place for kids to drink — they’re promoting underage drinking and condoning illegal activity. We have cited at least two adults for violations of this law.”

As part of the HCC grant, the Sheriff’s Department is documenting and tracking results of its efforts.

“We’re seeing improvements,” he said. “And we’re making more DWI arrests, which is a very strong deterrent.”

This information is shared with HCC to help pinpoint areas of the county that have the biggest problems with underage drinking and develop strategies and tactics that can be used to reduce it.

HCC Coordinator Catherine Speroni says that deterrence is a critical strategy in the effort to curb the problem, which is why the grant was made. Other strategies HCC is using include educational programs for children in targeted age groups, educating parents about how to talk to their kids about underage drinking, and providing tools for other youth-oriented groups in their efforts to educate both children and adults.

Healthy Cattaraugus County (HCC) is a coalition of groups representing business, media, parents, youth, law enforcement, religious, tribal, local government, educators, healthcare, civic or volunteer groups and other youth serving agencies whose goal is to educate the underage sector in Cattaraugus County to make smarter, healthier choices.

Its mission is to “foster the collaboration of resources to create a community where all youth can develop into caring, healthy and productive adults without the problems created by underage drinking.”

For more information about HCC, visit