Questioning the drinking busts

Police Chief Hestness should use his “grant” money on tactics that are actually likely to deter underage drinking.

This column is in response to Police Chief Hestness’ Sept. 23 letter to the editor. Sexy programs such as Operation NightCAP do little to discourage underage drinking.

These programs do more harm than good because they create an adversarial relationship between students and police officers and concentrate officers in an enforcement capacity, potentially leaving too few for public safety.

Police Chief Hestness’ explanation on “why” such programs are necessary is so filled with misleading and irrelevant evidence that instead of answering this question he further begs the question, “why?”

First, Police Chief Hestness suggests that underage-drinking enforcement will help to prevent sexual assaults from occurring.

Drinking does not cause sexual assault. Even though alcohol use is involved in a large number of sexual assaults, correlation does not mean causation.

While alcohol lowers inhibition, alcohol use alone does not compel anyone to commit sexual assault.

Furthermore, how do policies with the stated aim of reducing underage drinking stop sexual assaults, which are committed by offenders above and below the legal threshold for alcohol consumption?

Second, we are the University of Minnesota, not the Ohio State University. In his letter Police Chief Hestness warns that unless we attack drinking before it gets out of control the University might end up like Ohio State.

To suggest that the University is somehow on a slippery slope headed for all-out drunken debauchery makes no sense.

What evidence supports this appraisal? It is unethical to use the threat of a nonexistent and impossible-to-prove future state of affairs to support the use of the University police’s controversial tactics.

Additionally, this position does little to endear the University of Minnesota police to the University student body.

This implication suggests that the University of Minnesota police believe that University of Minnesota students are predisposed to drunken, riotous behavior. 

Third, most alcohol-related deaths occur as a result of students driving drunk, not underage drinking, binge drinking or alcohol poisoning. On average, 50 students a year nationwide die from drinking.

On the other hand, drunken driving is the number one cause of death of 18- to 24-year-olds, an age span including both “underage” and “legal” drinkers.

The probability of preventing alcohol-related death through the tactic of entering “party” houses to find underage drinkers is astronomical and does nothing to prevent the likely cause of alcohol-related death.

This tactic will not prevent students from dying from alcohol consumption but it will certainly mobilize intoxicated students. Let’s hope they don’t drive.

It makes more sense to concentrate police resources on efforts that will prevent drunken driving rather than initiatives that may scare students into driving away from a busted party.

Police Chief Hestness claims that the “uncivil behavior associated with over-consumption is the top quality of life complaint.”

Living next to a university is loud. Students stay up late, socialize, and get rowdy regardless of intoxication, and if that is homeowners’ number one complaint, then it appears Police Chief Hestness is doing his job.

Police Chief Hestness should be applauded for his efforts at keeping the University safe and his concern for students’ alcohol-related behavior. Binge drinking is dangerous.

But if Police Chief Hestness really wants to keep the University safe he should use his “grant” money on tactics that are actually likely to deter underage drinking, such as posting officers at liquor stores, maintaining a presence on the streets and developing more and better alcohol awareness programs.

Eric Ericson is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]