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Study: visible police presence results in reduced drinking

BY ARIANA WITT | NOVEMBER 19, 2010 7:20 AM

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Iowa City's efforts to crack down on college boozers are on the right track, a national study shows.

A report, published in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, found that visible methods to reduce student drinking, such as increasing police enforcement and decreasing accessibility, has proven successful.

"All these had to be part of the single intervention," said Robert Saltz, the principal investigator for the study and senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, Calif. "Those alone would probably not have worked."

A team of researchers monitored 14 public universities in California and collected data over four years, he said. Some universities cracked down on drinking while others served as controls.

Researchers said conditions in Iowa City were similar to what they observed in California.

Iowa City police began "party patrols" this fall to reduce the number of neighborhood parties. Police presence has increased on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

Similarly, University of Iowa officials honed in on tailgating, enforcing stricter regulations on such items as open alcohol containers.

Police cited 229 people at the first three home football games, according to UI and Iowa City Police records.

Saltz said these Iowa City efforts are similar to those used in his study — how the enforcement was publicized was just as important as the enforcement itself.

In California, it became harder for students to obtain alcohol, but limiting availability wasn't a focus of the new programs. And rather than shifting their drinking to new locations, students seemed to reduce their alcohol consumption, Saltz said.

But alcohol researcher and UI psychology Professor Emeritus Peter Nathan wrote in an e-mail these kinds of programs alone may not be enough without reducing alcohol availability.

One argument brought up during the 21-ordinance debate was that students would find somewhere to drink, regardless of a crackdown.

However, Saltz said, in California, that was not always the case.

"A lot of people think by adding extra controls in one place, drinking moves to another place," he said. "But this didn't happen, and we've actually never had solid data to support this claim."

But UI junior Taylor Nuehring said she and many of her friends moved from downtown bars to house parties after the 21-ordinance went into effect in June.

"I'm not going out any less," she said.

Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Services and a member of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, said the relatively new organization has in some ways helped reduce student drinking, but it's still too early to assess any progress.

"We know that from experience with other communities, campus community projects are important in reducing all aspects of drinking," he said.

Rocklin said he'd ultimately like to see fewer young people harmed by alcohol. Substantial results for any such efforts could take years, Saltz said.

"Just because you don't see change right away doesn't mean its not working," he said.


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