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The comprehensive solutions to solving the drinking problem

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 07, 2009 7:30 AM

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The anecdotes and numbers are stunning.

Hysterical, disoriented students, their senses saturated and overwhelmed by alcohol. Skyrocketing ambulance calls to downtown Iowa City. Sharp increases in blood-alcohol concentrations in the last half-decade.

All point to the same thing: Iowa City, known for its lively drinking culture, has become a bit too vivified. To call it binge drinking is a vast understatement — laughably so. Students’ alcohol consumption now regularly borders on lethal, as shown in an extensive report in today’s Daily Iowan.

So what needs to be done?

All members of the community have a stake in assuaging the danger associated with severe overconsumption. With a problem this complex, there is no single remedy, save for a complete shift in current student behavior. Still, there are a number of policies and initiatives the city, UI, and bar owners should consider.

• Shift the focus of police visits to public intoxication. Merely focusing on underage drinkers possessing alcohol clouds the true problem: overconsumption.

“What bothers me about this is for years there has been unanimity that overconsumption is the problem,” UI Professor Emeritus John Neff, who has studied local crime and alcohol, told the DI.

“Instead, all of the effort has been on controlling the age of drinking.”

He is right. Instead, police should aggressively target public intoxication.

Police officers should continue to visit and monitor bars, but they should focus their efforts on patrons consuming to much alcohol or acting belligerently. Officers can perform breath tests, and they should begin asking patrons to submit to such tests during their walk-throughs.

If the person blows under the legal limit for intoxication, the officer should release the individual unless the patron is disturbing the peace. Officers could issue underage drinkers PAULAs if they blow over the legal limit (which is any amount of alcohol for an underage individual). But the intent of their visits shouldn’t be merely to bust mildly inebriated 20-year-olds.

• Scrap the PAULA-specific bar-licensing policy in favor of one that targets overconsumption. The City Council should enact a policy similar to the current PAULA ratio rule, but more expansive in its scope.

The city should keep track of how many alcohol-related violations each bar receives within its premises over a quarter year, including PAULAs, public intoxications, assaults, and any medical emergencies and ambulance calls. Each quarter, the City Council should collaborate with the Iowa City police to review bars’ numbers to determine their conduct.

Bars with high capacities should have higher thresholds, and smaller bars’ thresholds should be lower. If a bar exceeds its respective threshold during the quarter, officials would place the bar on a quarterly probation. During this probationary period, bars could not sell anything but beer after 10:30 p.m. If a bar violated its probation, it would be in danger of losing its liquor license.

This policy alteration would punish bars by forcing them to start serving their patrons more safely while reducing the problems associated with overconsumption. Furthermore, it would give bar owners a reason to examine their bartenders’ serving habits and examine what they need to change.

In addition, councilors should give the police more license-renewal discretion than currently accorded.

• Make greek life wet, as well as one designated dorm and the revamped IMU. The protracted growth of risky behavior in downtown Iowa City is partially attributable to the establishment of a dry campus in 1995. Enacting a dry campus consolidated alcohol-related activities on the Pedestrian Mall, incubating a highly concentrated and quick-tempered consort of students who have helped create a culture of overconsumption. The number of bars in or near downtown has increased from 22 in 1995 to the current 36, according to an analysis by the Editorial Board based on documents from the City Clerk’s Office.

To combat this, the UI should allow consumption of alcohol in fraternities and sororities, one designated dorm, and the IMU when it fully reopens. Allowing fraternities to host parties may seem troublesome, but it would lighten Ped Mall traffic on a given weekend. The success of such a plan would hinge on the Office of Student Life’s ability to act as a strict regulatory body.

Furthermore, giving 21-year-olds the ability to drink in their dorms or a remodeled IMU — which could include a bowling alley — would provide other entertainment outlets to students. The UI could restrict dorm drinking to the apartment-style Mayflower Residence Hall, which would likely be more appealing to of-age students.

• Realizing it is in their own self-interest, bar owners should work with students and community members. Perhaps the only people with a more nefarious reputation in the community than students are bar owners. Just like every other individual or group with a stake in curbing out-of-control intoxication, bar owners need to recognize both the altruistic and selfish benefits of halting out-of-control drinking.

Empty statements about enhancing communication and cooperation with the City Council, university, and bar patrons is not sufficient to stem overconsumption. Bar owners should wholeheartedly back a breath-test-based enforcement policy, and any patron not willing to submit to such a test should be promptly removed.

In addition, owners should constantly remind employees about the importance of not serving overly intoxicated customers. Bartenders must accept some of the responsibility for superfluous consumption.

• Students should take it upon themselves to remedy this issue. The potential solutions we have provided could be implemented with positive effects. However, one thing would preclude the necessity of any of it: a change in student attitudes toward drinking and overconsumption.

The Editorial Board does not wish to inhibit the lifestyles and choices of responsible adults. When examining solutions to the overconsumption conundrum, alcohol should not be demonized; irresponsible behavior, rather than the substance itself is the true catalyst of these alarming trends.

That’s where students come in.

We should be adamant about discouraging the unmitigated drinking culture on this campus. We should roll our eyes at, rather than venerate, tales of black-out drunk escapades. When you know your friend has had one too many Bud Lights, don’t be silent. Positive peer pressure needs to overtake the “too much is never enough” mentality.


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