As a Centre County judge for 13 years and a resident of Centre County my entire life, I have long seen the impact alcohol has on the young people in our community. Most often that impact is troubling, and often it is tragic.
Much of the focus on underage drinking and problem drinking by young people has been aimed at the State College area and the Penn State campus and its students. The concentration of alcohol — and willing consumers of that alcohol — in that area warrant the focused attention on the problems there.
The vast majority of Centre County, however, constitutes a much less densely populated and more rural landscape. The problems of underage drinking and furnishing alcohol to minors do not stop at the boundaries of Beaver Canyon or even the State College area. Neighborhood and rural drinking constitute a significant and growing problem in our community that is best confronted and addressed by the people who live in those communities.
By the very nature of less-populated outlying areas, there is not as much police presence and there is not the frequency of police patrols in those areas. The best and most readily available enforcement technique is for residents and those in the area to serve as the eyes and ears of the police and to report likely problems to the appropriate authorities.
Any resident observing an unusual number of people coming into and leaving a residence, or a large number of cars parked in the driveway of a neighborhood home while the parents were thought to be out of town, or suspicious activity at a hunting camp or in a parking lot of one of our state parks or other areas should raise the suspicion of those observing the same. Don’t simply drive by and assume it is someone else’s problem.
The juveniles or other young adults at those gatherings cannot rely upon CATA buses or simply walking home. All of those people will either drive or ride with a driver who often has to negotiate winding country roads or other residential areas while impaired and driving dangerously.
This is not a new problem. For decades, young people looking to break the law have escaped to the beautiful mountains around the county and to rural settings where they are “off the radar screen” of parents, neighbors and the police. The police simply do not have enough resources to patrol all of these areas all of the time. Residents and travelers in those areas, especially through the warmer months of the summer, should be on heightened alert to assist our community in combating this dangerous and illegal activity.
Please get involved. Please stay involved. Please help us discover and stem the rise in dangerous drinking by the underage members of our community — even those outside Beaver Canyon.
Judge Thomas King Kistler handles all juvenile cases in Centre County court. He has also spearheaded a committee to talk about ways to approach teen pregnancy.