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New plan to combat underage drinking needed

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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The underage drinkers know the Iowa City police all too well, always trying to spot an officer in the bars doing a random check. A person can never know when the police will enter the underage drinker's establishment of choice and dole out a PAULA.

At first, it seems like a carefully planned attack, with everyone from the wait staff at the establishment to the officer guarding the door in on it. But when you dig a little deeper, it seems like the Iowa City police are running around the city with no real plan of attack at all when it comes bar checks.

That has to change if the police want to enact any change.

Sgt. Denise Brotherton, the Iowa City police public-relations officer, said there were not any specific techniques used to pursue underage drinkers downtown.

"Our ultimate mission is to uphold the safety of all of our citizens and to uphold the law, and [underage drinkers] are breaking the law," Brotherton said. "There are police patrolling downtown because the underage drinkers at that time of night, in that area, do damage to property, and there are assaults."

The Bar Check Report for April states that the Summit, a local favorite among students and residents alike, underwent 25 bar checks. Though, Brotherton pointed to the police website as having all the information needed on the issue, it fails to define what a bar check constitutes, instead stating the legal definition of a PAULA.

Summit manager Ryan Van Splinter's frustration was palpable as he described the police's "inconsistency." But what frustrates him is that even with new ownership, official steps made to become a more reputable business, and passing all alcohol-compliance checks, the establishment is still the most police-visited bar in Iowa City, with 268 bar checks in 2011.

"We've passed everything: ID checks, stings — everything," Van Splinter said.

He noted that all employees must pass the I-PACT to be on the employed at the bar. The test, distributed by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, states that those who pass it are educated according to Iowa law on how to keep alcohol from being served to those underage.

He also said he has never been notified of a bar check before it took place while he was working.

"Sometimes, they just come through our back door without asking us," he said. "Last summer, I knew some of the cops that would come in, but now they're all newer, younger guys. I've even seen them, to be honest, come in and ID a group of girls, and if they're 21, they'll socialize with them."

These bar checks don't provide any considerable change to the environment of downtown except statistics — successes, if we are going to use that word, of their proactive ticketing of drunks.

According to the 2011 arrest statistics, there were 538 people charged with PAULA, 263 with disorderly conduct, 185 with interference with official act, 979 with public intoxication. This year, the numbers are on the same pace, with 310 public-intoxication charges through April.

The technique used by the police downtown is shockingly unplanned to the point of ignorant. With the current system, bars have to deal with police officers frequently entering their establishments, but the police do not provide a safer drinking experience.

Their technique should be that they should enter bars, after informing the owners of the bars, and pursue those visibly too drunk or those acting violently. If people look suspiciously young, then yes, card them — but do not spit in the face of local business owners and disrespect the autonomy of Iowa City citizens.


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