New task force targets underage drinking


Police say a first-of-its-kind underage bust over the weekend is part of an aggressive crackdown that put 21 people in jail.

Police, schools, and neighbors are now working together to tip investigators about parties involving teenagers.

At Greenfield-Central High School, everyone heard it was happening: a big party, that ended in a big bust for underage drinkers at a Hancock County home.

"It was everywhere. I mean a lot of my friends were going," said student Ashley Ratliff.

"When the off-duty officer pulls up, flips his lights on, all these kids go scattering back into the house," explained Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd.

Police made 21 arrests at the home in the 6100 block of North County Road 600 East in Greenfield. Teens and young adults, with blood alcohol levels between .01 and .19, face a variety of charges involving alcohol.

Investigators say they were all breaking the law by drinking underage. It's the first bust for a new task force in Hancock County, focused on teen drinking.

"They understand that the task force is there and that if you are picked up by the task force, you're going to end up here at the Hancock County Jail," said Tim Retherford, executive director of Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse.

The Underage Drinking Task Force, paid for through a grant, is a first-of-its-kind in the entire state. The aggressive crackdown links every single agency in Hancock County: state and local police, probation, prosecutors, neighborhood groups and all four school districts.

They're taking tips, using manpower, and doling out the same punishment if kids get caught.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the northern part of the county or southern part of the county, it's going to be dealt with the same way," Shepherd explained.

"Teens know it doesn't matter where they go, because they're going to end up with the same consequences if they're caught drinking," Retherford added.

Police say it's not about making a bunch of arrests, but more about preventing tragedy.

And for teens? The message is already getting through.

"They're all good kids, just wrong place at the wrong time," Ratliff said. "I think that them getting caught opened up everyone's eyes what the consequences could be."

Many of the teens arrested over the weekend were athletes. They're getting punishment in their schools, too, such as partial suspensions of their sports seasons.

The Underage Drinking Task Force is handing out business cards with the phone number 317-47-PARTY, where people can report underage drinking in Hancock County to a tip line anonymously.