Panel talks social host ordinance

Students expressed their concerns about the new ordinance Wednesday.

by Raghav Mehta

Before a panel comprised of University of Minnesota faculty, law enforcement and a county attorney, University students and members from the surrounding community expressed their concerns regarding the newly passed Minneapolis social host ordinance Wednesday evening. Under the social host ordinance, passed in February, hosting a party with underage drinkers present is a misdemeanor offense. In an effort to better inform the University community about the ordinance and field questions from the audience, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart hosted a town hall meeting at Van Cleve Community Center. Rinehart was accompanied by a panel that included University Student Legal Services Director Mark Karon and 2nd Precinct community attorney Jodi Furness. Minneapolis Police Department Inspector and Commander Bryan Schafer and University police Lt. Erik Swanson participated as well. Furness led the discussion by outlining the details of the ordinance and explaining how the ordinance was merely an additional tool for law enforcement rather than a silver bullet solution for underage drinking. âÄú[The ordinance] is another way to combat a problem we see in the community,âÄù Furness said, speaking about the issue of underage drinking on and off campus. Both Schafer and Swanson emphasized how the main goal of the ordinance was to reduce problems related to underage drinking. âÄúWeâÄôre not the big bad boogeyman trying to lock everyone up; our goal is prevention,âÄù Schafer said. While recognizing the problem of underage drinking, Minnesota Student Association President Sarah Shook opened with a lengthy statement chastising the ordinance. âÄúIt is my belief, and the belief of thousands of students at the University of Minnesota, that there are serious, fundamental flaws in the way in which our community has chosen to address the issue of unsafe drinking,âÄù Shook said. âÄúWhile underage drinking is a problem, the problem is unsafe binge drinking,âÄù she added. Other members of the diverse audience included fraternity and sorority members and local residents who directed questions at the panel. Several students questioned how the greek community would be treated. Swanson said fraternities and sororities would be held to the same standard as the rest of the University and suggested that the greek community actually had advantages because of the various leadership positions they assigned to members. âÄú[Fraternities] have some layer of folks who have a greater degree of responsibility,âÄù Swanson said. One student brought up the issue of fake IDs and asked if hosts would be held accountable if a minor were to use one to enter a party. Schafer responded and said law enforcement would most likely sympathize with residents who were making a visible effort to party responsibly. The panel suggested residents check IDs at the door or issue wristbands to ensure minors were not consuming alcohol. âÄúIf we see somebody is making a reasonable effort to be responsible, that all goes in your favor,âÄù Schafer said. The panel also pointed out that the ordinance is designed to encourage party hosts to reduce noise levels and said it probably wouldnâÄôt be the single motive for law enforcement to knock on someoneâÄôs door. âÄúSomething has to draw the attention of [police] to bring them there,âÄù Karon said. Safety concerns were discussed as well, with one student arguing that sending more officers to monitor parties may limit law enforcementâÄôs ability to combat criminal activity. Swanson defended the strategy and referred to the decrease in street crime with the advent of the University party patrol. âÄú[The party patrol] had a beneficial effect on street crime,âÄù Swanson said.