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Unsupervised Prom-Night Hotel Parties Very "Risky" for Teens, Scottsdale Police Warn

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The Scottsdale Police Department may be stating the obvious with its new public-safety campaign, but the cops are warning teens that unsupervised prom parties in hotel rooms are prime places to drink and do drugs.

It's called "We're Coming to the Party!" — the "we" being Scottsdale police.

And it's meant to get teens, parents, and hotel operators to think about the consequences of wild parties attended by underage drinkers.

Police, school officials, and neighborhood activists will kick off the campaign this weekend, contacting local hotels about what's been a big problem in past years, advertising the effort on social media, and distributing flyers at schools. Unsupervised teen parties anywhere are the overall target, but one goal of the program is to get hotels to reconsider renting rooms for prom parties unsupervised by adults.

Several Scottsdale Unified School District schools will have a prom this month: For instance, Saguaro High School has its prom this Saturday, Coronado High School's prom is on April 23, and Chaparral High's is April 30.

The educational effort came about because of an eye-opening community assessment performed last year in which teens contacted by police for varying reasons discussed how important their prom was to them — in terms of finding access to impairing substances.

Throughout the year, when kids were asked how they were able to obtain alcohol and drugs, they responded that "around prom time" it was easy, says Scottsdale Police Commander Rich Slavin. The problem, research revealed, is that parents often rent a room for teens "with good intentions," thinking that at least the kids won't be out driving while drunk.

But when the parties are unsupervised, trouble is more of a possibility. Slavin says his interest is in keeping kids safe and trying to ensure their prom memories don't include a trip to the hospital or something worse, like a sexual assault.

"These are the times we need to supervise them." Slavin says. "They're susceptible to risky behavior."

The Scottsdale Prevention Institute, which conducted last year's assessment, found that adults "commonly rented rooms" in which teens would be unsupervised. Statistics compiled by the group show that prom partying may be on the rise: In the 2015 "prom season," a news release about the campaign states, underage DUIs went up by 20 percent in Scottsdale over the previous year, and underage alcohol consumption jumped 47 percent.

"We're asking hotels to make choices, and maybe have a conversation with the adult renting the room to ask, 'Have you considered these sorts of things?'" Slavin says.

Some Scottsdale hotels already have policies that tend to thwart teen parties, such as rules that require everyone in the room be 21 and older, or no more than two people per bed in each room at any time.

Kim Sabow, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, expressed no concern about the possibility of reduced business because of the campaign. 

The association "supports all of our public-safety agencies and their educational efforts to help keep our residents safe," she said.

The campaign is conducted by the Scottsdale Police Department, Paradise Valley Police Department, Scottsdale Neighborhoods in Action Coalition, and the Scottsdale Unified School District.

It's strictly an education campaign, Slavin says: Police are not targeting teens on prom nights and will be doing normal weekend enforcement this month.

But if cops find out that underage teens are drinking, they'll be "coming to the party." 

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