Work together to keep parties safe

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Family reunions. Wedding receptions. Anniversary and retirement parties.

All these are occasions that call for getting a large group of people together to celebrate. For most folks, that means renting a facility — whether a community center building or a hotel conference room. In Suffolk, there are plenty of possibilities when it comes time to find such a facility. Ruritan clubs and other civic organizations own buildings that they rent to help raise money for their charitable work around the community, and hotels rent space to help raise their profits.

But who should be held responsible when the parties that take place in those facilities get out of hand? And who should be in charge of making sure that the activities that take place at those parties are lawful?

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In the wake of a deadly shooting that took place earlier this month when a fight that began at a back-to-school party moved onto public streets, Suffolk is wrestling with just those kinds of questions. A meeting between city officials and owners of Suffolk public rental facilities on Tuesday marked the administration’s first public step toward imposing some order in the marketplace.

Officials representing the city’s police, fire and community development departments, as well as the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, met with building owners and managers to reiterate the laws governing such facilities and to see what could be done to reduce the number of incidents that turn violent at the parties that take place in them.

The Aug. 1 murder of TyQuan Lewis was not the first argument to turn violent during such a party, and officials are concerned about the trend that they’re seeing.

One of the first steps the city intends to take is to inspect the properties that are used for public rentals throughout Suffolk and make sure that they meet the safety and zoning requirements set forth under the city code.

That’s an appropriate response, but it can hardly be the end of the story. Those who rent the facilities must bear some responsibility for making sure their renters understand the laws related to underage drinking and the serving of alcoholic beverages in general and that they are responsible adults with a desire to stage safe, peaceful events.

Since the owners can’t be expected to police every party that takes place within their facilities’ walls, however, and since police can’t spend their Friday and Saturday nights cruising only the roads around every community center in the city, a large measure of responsibility must fall on those who use the buildings.

Minors should never be served alcohol, weapons should be discouraged at parties where alcohol is present and larger parties should include some sort of paid security staff.

At a more basic level, a large degree of responsibility must lie with parents, who should know where their children are, what company they are keeping and when and how they are expected to come home.

Together, we can keep Suffolk’s kids safe. Without a concerted effort to that end, however, there will only be more violence.