Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
Statement of Problem
Dangerous drinking has emerged in recent years as a significant public policy issue and has been revealed to be a major threat to the safety and well being of young people. Often dangerous drinking in university communities involves persons under the age of 21. As universities grappled with the educational, social, and public health implications of dangerous and illegal drinking, it became evident that an environmental approach is needed to impact this issue. A common strategy to reduce dangerous drinking, source investigations and underage drinking is to increase the enforcement of various alcohol laws.
State College police officers often encounter large drinking parties attended primarily by university students. During the typical academic year, State College police officers will respond to over 1,500 party complaints received from the public. In addition to the health and safety risks to drinkers, large parties have adversely affected several State College neighborhoods. In areas near campus, it has become increasingly difficult for homeowners and families to endure the litter, vandalism, noise, parking problems, and other side effects of drinking parties. Both those who provide alcohol to minors and those drinking underage have little concern about suffering legal consequences at such parties. Because of manpower limitations and other demands, SCPD must often take an order maintenance approach to large drinking parties, seeking to disperse those involved with a minimal amount of resources, arrests, and paperwork.
SCPD focuses enforcement efforts on the following alcohol crimes:
* Furnishing Alcohol to Minors (Source Investigations)
* Purchase, possession, consumption, or transportation of an alcohol or malt or brewed beverage (underage drinking)
* Public Drunkenness
* Carrying or Exhibiting a False Identification
* Various Pennsylvania Liquor Code Violations
Target Group and Location
The State College Police Source Investigation Project (SIP) is aimed at off-campus drinking parties attended primarily by college-aged young people. Although SIP efforts are primarily directed at PSU students, in practice SIP interacts with and effects young people from about 16 to 25 years of age. Some of these are PSU students, some are high school students, some are not in school at all, and some attend other colleges. SIP focuses on large parties that come to the attention of the police through citizen complaints or the on-view observations of officers. The SIP team will be geographically centered in the Highlands and Holmes-Foster neighborhoods, generally within a mile of campus, although officers will respond to parties in other areas of town from time to time. High-risk drinking, furnishing alcohol to minors, and underage drinking are most likely to occur at off-campus parties, not at bars. In the past, various prevention and enforcement efforts have focused on licensed liquor establishments. However, little has been done in the recent past to impact the venue where high-risk, furnishing, and underage drinking are most prevalent: apartments, fraternities, and rental housing units.
Goals and Objectives
SIP is one strategy adopted by the SCPD to impact off-campus high-risk and underage drinking as well as furnishing alcohol to minors. The goal of this project is to increase enforcement to create greater risk associated with high-risk drinking, furnishing alcohol to minors, and underage drinking. The project seeks to reach these objectives by a public relations/crime prevention plan, increasing the number of arrests at such parties and by publicizing these results in media outlets likely to reach the target audience.
Methods of Implementation
A Special Projects Coordinator coordinates SIP efforts and is responsible for coordinating required follow-up investigation on cases initiated by SIP. This position is dedicated to alcohol enforcement and related tasks. The strategy of SIP is to deploy extra officers during peak party nights throughout the academic year. These officers are not involved in other duties those nights and in most cases are working overtime strictly for SIP efforts. Their sole responsibility is locating and responding to large parties in an effort to identify persons furnishing alcohol to minors and drinking underage. SIP relies on both officer observations, especially in densely populated student neighborhoods such as the Highlands neighborhood, and on complaints received from the public. As available, Pennsylvania liquor enforcement agents will be requested to provide resources to assist SIP.
Officers assigned to SIP work both in uniform and in plain clothes. By dedicating several officers to these events, it becomes practical for the department to do much more than merely disperse parties. Whereas only a few officers have rather limited options, a full squad can not only break up the party, but obtain search warrants when necessary, collect evidence in undercover operations, seize physical evidence such as cash or kegs, detain and issue citations to larger numbers of minors, and generally ensure that those holding such parties are arrested or cited for the applicable state laws and Borough ordinances.
In addition, the Borough’s Housing Task Force has made considerable efforts to identify the specific locations where repeat violations or complaints occur. Using the department’s police records along with Borough health and code violations, locations of multiple complaints have been identified, the owners of the land parcels identified, and personal contact has been made with several of these landlords.
The department’s efforts include a media strategy as an integral component of the overall project. Each time, a SIP detail is conducted. The department follows up with a media briefing to television stations, radio stations, and the two daily newspapers.
The SCPD and the PLCB, in a 50/50 split, jointly funded the Source Investigation Project.