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Kudos to city’s new direction in combating downtown violence

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 24, 2009 7:26 AM

Last weekend marked a new direction in Iowa City’s war on alcohol-fueled violence. The police, despite adding four officers to patrol downtown, issued only one PAULA ticket and made only eight bar checks between April 17 and Sunday. That’s two PAULAs down from the previous weekend, but three more bar checks. It is a minor increase in bar checks from the previous week, but a vast decrease overall. Two weeks ago, the number of bar checks was 23 and the week before that 60. What is increasing is the number of arrests for public intoxication and fights/assaults.

This means the police are moving their focus from the bars to outside on the Pedestrian Mall and other parts of downtown. They are arresting individuals who pose a danger to others rather than citing tickets to young people whose only crime was immaturity and poor judgment. This Editorial Board commends the police for their shift in tactics and hopes they will continue on this path. As we’ve argued before, PAULA tickets do little, if any, good, in deterring underage drinkers from entering bars and consuming alcoholic beverages. It does harm to the minors — other than leveling a financial burden — by expelling them from bars into the downtown night, leaving them susceptible to attack from roving gangs and violent drunks.

The change in focus also reflects a perceived shift in priorities. By opting to patrol the Ped Mall instead of the bars, the police have sent a message saying they care more about what happens to the local population instead of placing judgment on minors. This can be very reassuring to a population that views the police as individuals who care more about underage drinkers’ wallets than their safety.

Violence, specifically the assaults committed by supposedly random gangs, are a plague upon this town. Aside from affecting the overall safety of the people living here, the assaults do horrendous damage to Iowa City’s and the UI’s reputation. The livelihood of the university, and therefore the city, depends on students wanting to come here, and students will stop enrolling at the UI if they think they’ll be attacked.

We also commend the university and the city government for coming together and forming the Alcohol Steering Committee. For too long, the school and the city followed different paths in confronting alcohol-fueled violence. The bars were the city’s problem, even though UI students frequented the bars more than any other group. The underage students were the UI’s problem, even though they frequented downtown bars. Both the university and the city considered these two separate problems. Now, by creating the Alcohol Steering Committee, the UI and Iowa City have sent a message saying they understand the two previous problems are interconnected, and that they must work together to solve them.

We wish the Alcohol Steering Committee good luck in addressing these problems and hope it finds real, lasting solutions. While alcohol is the root of most violence in Iowa City right now, the acts of violence are the real problems. Most individuals can enjoy alcoholic beverages and the fun atmosphere downtown Iowa City provides without resorting to violence. The committee must take that into consideration when addressing these problems. For now, it seems like the authorities are moving in the right direction and students and citizens alike must give their support to the new endeavors.


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