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Correct strategy, not just increased numbers, needed to combat alcohol-related violence

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 25, 2009 7:05 AM

Students aren’t the only group returning to downtown in large numbers this fall. Police officers will also be there to ticket people for underage drinking, arrest them for public intoxication, and, hopefully, protect the public from violent offenders. Iowa City police Lt. Doug Hart told The Daily Iowan (Aug. 24) that the department will increase the number of officers patrolling downtown and expand their presence in the surrounding residential areas. The UI police will also aid in the effort, picking up extra shifts and working jointly with city police. The increased numbers will undoubtedly help keep the peace, but the efficacy of adding more officers will be low without the proper strategy and focus.

Focusing on one particular type of crime over another will produce different peacekeeping results. Choosing to patrol one part of downtown (the Pedestrian Mall versus bars, for example) will also produce different results. Police won’t be able to stop all downtown crime, no matter how many officers they send.

Hart said, “If you choose to participate in illegal or unlawful actions, chances are you are going to get caught,” indicating the police intend to crack down on general criminal activity in hopes of reducing alcohol-related violence. General criminal activity includes a wide variety of offenses, and police officers could overlook more serious offenses by focusing on such a wide swath of crimes.

Take underage drinking, for example. As usual, PAULA and other nonviolent, alcohol-related crimes dominated this past weekend’s police blotter. Iowa City police charged 15 people with public intoxication, 14 people with PAULA, and eight with using fake IDs between Aug. 20 and 24. In addition, police charged five individuals for keeping a disorderly house and one with public urination. Advocates for increased police attention to underage drinking argue that because it is a root cause of alcohol-related violence, removing the root will reduce violence. Though numerous studies tie violence with binge-drinking, it’s highly suspect that curbing underage drinking alone will reduce alcohol-related violence.

Citing people for a PAULA does little to prevent violence, outside of preventing them from consuming more alcohol. It can create a dangerous situation when police ask underage people to leave the area, casting them out of a brightly lit downtown and into the relative darkness of the Iowa City night. The people are not supervised and can harbor violent emotions as they walk away alone into unknown circumstances.

Breaking up fights and arresting people for violent activity would be a better strategy. Instead of devoting manpower to more bar visits, the increased police presence should concentrate on patrolling the Ped Mall and surrounding areas. Officers on the Ped Mall and the residential areas should target violent activity — fights, vandalism, people looking for fights, etc. — and act accordingly. Jennifer Anderson, a senior from Council Bluffs, said she’s noticed that violent crimes such as rapes and other assaults are more prevalent at house parties than at bars.

“I’ve never seen a fight at Deadwood,” Anderson said.

If police focus on house parties that are truly raucous and not just ones with a high number of attendees, they might be able to prevent such things from happening. But again, an effective strategy, rather than sheer numbers is the key. Underage drinking is a crime. But merely cracking down on boozed-up youth won’t advance the ultimate mission — increased safety downtown and in the community.


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