Study finds cracks in alcohol citations

The University’s national study discussed law enforcement trends for alcohol misconduct on college campuses.
July 30, 2014

A study conducted largely by University of Minnesota researchers found that college campuses nationwide could better enforce alcohol laws.

The study, which examined law enforcement responses to alcohol-related incidents at colleges, found that few schools consistently issued citations for alcohol-law violations on campus. And that may be problematic because consistent enforcement tactics have been found to prevent future alcohol-related violations among college students, the study says.

Though the research, which was published in mid-July, highlighted holes in campuses’ law enforcement practices, University officials say the institution is managing its law enforcement well and is continually working to address concerns related to students’ drinking habits.

“I think we’re making progress on a challenging problem,” said a co-author of the study, Toben Nelson, who’s also a member of the University’s Alcohol Policy and Abuse Prevention Committee.

The study anonymously reviewed hundreds of public and private colleges across the nation, and Nelson could not say whether the University was a part of that group.

For serious alcohol-related incidents, campus police reported notifying college deans or student affairs almost 80 percent of the time, but they only issued citations 35 percent of the time.

The study speculated that campus police may feel students are more likely to receive adequate sanctions through student affairs than through formal courts, and therefore may be less likely to issue a citation.

“Colleges tend to want to take care of their own students and keep those issues in house and not expose students to accountability as if they were living out in the community,” Nelson said.

However, he said the study didn’t look into the relationship between administrative actions and student behaviors, so other factors could be at play.

“It may be the case that students are less accountable for the drinking behavior by virtue of being college students,” he said.

The group is interested in conducting more research, Nelson said, but won’t be able to move forward until they receive additional funding.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said there have been no issues with how officers handle alcohol enforcement like those discussed in the study.

He said that if a police officer comes across someone underage drinking, for example, the protocol is to issue a citation. But officers are allowed to use their own discretion when making that decision, he said.

Nick Juarez, the crime prevention specialist for Minneapolis’ second precinct, echoed that point by saying sometimes officers’ main concern is getting everyone home safely, not issuing a citation to every underage student at a party.

“We just don’t have the resources to issue every student a citation,” he said.

Miner said any police reports involving University students are automatically sent to the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.

The office’s director, Sharon Dzik, said when OSCAI receives police reports, students are typically placed on probation for a semester and are usually mandated to at least one educational program or health resources.

Dzik said students effectively learn from the school’s disciplinary process.

“I like the way our University handles [alcohol misconduct] because it’s very educational,” she said.

Nelson said the University’s current alcohol education programs, especially those in place for freshmen, create some expectation and accountability for students.

There’s still more research to be done on effective enforcement of alcohol laws on campuses nationwide, Nelson said, but overall the University is managing the issue well.

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