Local alcohol safety advocates discuss strategic plans for fall

BY KRISTEN EAST | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local officials want to see the number of public-intoxication arrests in Iowa City decrease this fall but are split on whether a strategy should only target underage patrons.

Roughly 20 members of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety — a collaboration between city and University of Iowa officials — met Wednesday to discuss the creation of a fall 2012 strategy aimed at combating the significant increase in public-intoxication arrests from 2010 to 2011.

"We know that high-risk drinking is going to be a long-term issue," said Kelly Bender, the University of Iowa campus community harm-reduction-initiative coordinator. "We may not need anymore strategies, but instead think about what we have …and how we can coordinate those strategies."

Following the installment of the 21-ordinance in 2010, Iowa City and UI police recorded a combined 35 percent increase in public-intoxication arrests from 2010 to 2011 for people under the legal age. Conversely, arrests for those 21 and over decreased by 17 percent.

Bender said underage public intoxication — particularly during the peak months of August through October — should be the coalition's focus because of the recent inflation of arrests.

"[Under 21] is a very vulnerable age," she said. "We can have the biggest impact as a coalition if we have one narrow target."

But one city official advised the coalition not to jump to conclusions when comparing only two years of data.

"It's hard to make concrete statements about what's happening from 2010 to 2011," Assistant City Manager Geoff Fruin said. "You should look at five- to 10-year trends whenever possible and how those balance out over time. It's a framing issue."

Though members agreed public intoxication and its harmful effects was a primary concern, they were in disagreement over whether underage drinkers should be singled out.

Shelly Campo — a UI associate professor of community and behavioral health — said the group members need to be mindful of how they frame the strategy's goals.

"The second we make the strategy about underage [drinkers], you're going to have a boomerang effect because they're being targeted," she said.

Campo also said focusing only on underage drinkers would be "counterproductive" to what the coalition stands for, noting the purpose of the partnership is to increase safety for everyone.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of M.C. Ginsberg, agreed.

"What we're trying to reduce is heavy episodic drinking," he said. "It doesn't help us to keep bringing in the word underage. Twenty-four or 18, I don't want them engaging."

The coalition ultimately decided to focus on all pubic intoxications for now and will discuss strategy specifics at subsequent meetings.

Bender said the coalition will proceed with strategy planning by holding committee meetings before formally meeting again on May 9.

And though she doesn't anticipate the group will have a strategy in place by May, Bender said plans should be drafted by July.

"We need a goal in place in time for us to develop an evaluation plan and make sure all details are worked out for the fall," she said.

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