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At staged house party in Coeur d’Alene, cops ask teens, ‘You been drinking?’

Lakeland High School students from left, Abigail Conner and Nicole Kimling listen to instructions from Lewiston Police Officer Rob Massey during a police training simulation of a mock keg party in Coeur d'Alene on Monday, May 22, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Lakeland High School students from left, Abigail Conner and Nicole Kimling listen to instructions from Lewiston Police Officer Rob Massey during a police training simulation of a mock keg party in Coeur d'Alene on Monday, May 22, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

“All right, who’s been drinking tonight?”

Lewiston police Officer Rob Massey stood in the living room of a well-kept ranch home surrounded by a forest. A group of teenagers sat on the floor – some trying not to smirk, others looking fearful of the impending consequences of their behavior.

“You been drinking? You? Huh?” Massey asked with a stern expression. “Be honest with me.”

One by one, the teens stood up and answered questions about their age, how many drinks they’d had and whether their parents knew about the party. Red plastic cups littered the floor. Some boys were still hiding behind trees in the backyard, carrying bags of white powder (baking soda) and dried green leaves (Italian seasoning).

The scene unfolded Monday afternoon at a home just south of Coeur d’Alene, overlooking Mica Bay. It was a simulation designed to teach law enforcement officers how to respond to underage drinking parties, which present a range of unique challenges.

“Some are logistically easier than others,” said Jermaine Galloway, a former Boise police officer who now works full-time as a law enforcement trainer. “Some are an absolute nightmare to work.”

Towering at 6 feet 9 inches, Galloway, who once played Division I basketball, calls himself “the Tall Cop.” He trains thousands of officers in about 35 states each year. He’s known as an expert in drug and alcohol safety, trends and enforcement.

Monday’s simulations followed a classroom training session at the Idaho State Police office in Coeur d’Alene. Officers from more than a dozen agencies, including several from Michigan and some from the U.S. Forest Service, took turns knocking on the front door of the home and rounding up the teens as they scurried out the back.

The simulations were organized in conjunction with the Northwest Alcohol and Substance Abuse Conference and the Kootenai County Substance Abuse Council.

Lakeland High School sent a busload of 16 students who volunteered to have their fake party busted. They guzzled beer (apple juice) and swallowed tabs of designer drugs (Skittles).

“My dad said it’s better to learn like this than the hard way,” said Chase Hartzell, a 15-year-old freshman who’s considering a career in law enforcement.

Cops who took part in the training said they appreciate the hands-on experience.

“It can be simple dealing with one or two kids in a park,” said Lewiston police Officer Dave Gobbi. But breaking up a house party with dozens of teens “can get really overwhelming really quick.”

Gobbi and Massey are school resource officers and regularly deal with teens. When breaking up parties, they said, one of the biggest challenges is contacting the parents of every intoxicated minor.

“Sometimes it happens that we get stuck looking after a kid for three or four hours,” Massey said.

Galloway added that teens often party in the woods in spots that are difficult to find and access with patrol cars and ambulances. Last fall, Kootenai County authorities responded to a massive party along Highway 97 that involved sanctioned fighting and underage drinking. It was organized on social media.

“What happens if you get a child who runs down the hill into the shrubs?” Galloway asked. “What happens when one kid overdoses on alcohol?”

Hartzell, the Lakeland High School student, said he and his classmates did their best to act like they had been partying and breaking the law. But he suspects police would have a harder time at a real party.

“They probably get a lot of talking back,” Hartzell said.

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