Police rarely cite drinking

Many minors say they drink, but university police report few alcohol offenses.

by Nicholas Studenski

College campuses have a reputation for high alcohol use, but university police departments often report few offenses.

Nearly two-thirds of Minnesota college students said they consumed alcohol in the last month, according to the Boynton Health Service 2012 College Student Health Survey. University of Minnesota police reported 181 alcohol offenses in 2012, which includes tickets for underage drinking, public consumption and open liquor bottles in vehicles.

Biology freshman Kalie Schwartz said she sees a lot of alcohol use on campus.

“It’s obviously prevalent,” she said.

Despite high rates of alcohol use, Schwartz said she thinks students are smart about drinking and as long as students aren’t behaving dangerously, police don’t strictly monitor use.

“If you’re acting like an adult, they’re going to treat you like an adult,” she said. “Not that they condone it, but they probably have more important things to deal with.”

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said police don’t stop to ask people if they’ve been drinking, but they do intervene when students are drawing attention to themselves.

UMPD proactively monitors drug and alcohol use, especially at the beginning of fall semester, Miner said. Extra officers go on patrol during the first few weeks to get ahead of the curve and set a tone of responsibility for the year, he said.

Later in the year, Miner said, police shift to more reactive enforcement.

Schwartz estimated that two-thirds of her underage peers drink. According to the Boynton survey, nearly 30 percent of 18-year-old students and nearly half of 20-year-old students said they’d consumed alcohol in the last month.

Libby Spotts, Housing and Residential Life student conduct coordinator, said alcohol use in the dorms isn’t always reported to UMPD right away because incidents are often filed internally and reported to UMPD at the end of the year.

If HRL staff see someone who appears to need assistance, Spotts said, they offer assistance. If possible, the staff members handle the situation on their own. When students become difficult to deal with or are in danger, she said, staff members call University police for help.

Comparisons and education

Miner said the University has a fairly low rate of alcohol and drug use compared to other college campuses, which he partially attributes to a “higher caliber of students” here who study more and drink less.

Marc Lovicott, public information officer for the University of Wisconsin–Madison police department, said alcohol is one of the primary issues police deal with on campus.

Madison’s university police issued more than 700 underage alcohol citations in 2012, down from nearly 1,000 in 2008.

Though the number of citations is down, Lovicott said, the average blood alcohol content of students who are issued citations has gone up, which concerns university police.

According to the Boynton survey, one in four Minnesota college students reported binge drinking in the past two weeks. Binge drinking is defined as having more than five drinks in one sitting.

Dave Golden, BHS director of public health and communications, said binge drinking is linked to poor student performance.

“It really is important … to not engage in high-risk drinking,” he said. “Those students simply do better that have lower rates in all kinds of ways, and it reduces the chances of bad stuff happening.”

Golden said Boynton and other departments have made “a concerted effort” to reduce drinking on campus, and the number of students who drink has declined.

Boynton screens all patients for possible alcohol-related problems, he said, and has chemical health counselors who can see students with drug and alcohol problems.

Other efforts to educate students about safe drinking include the Student Network for Abuse Prevention and the online AlcoholEdu course required for first-year University students this year.

Ultimately, Miner said, the goal is to make sure students on campus are safe.

“A side effect of enforcement is making campus safer,” he said.