Alcohol Enforcement Resumes This Weekend
Student renters, landlords could face prosecution for illegal parties
Armed with a year-old ordinance, Boston police say they may begin arresting the landlords and student tenants of apartments with habitual violations of alcohol laws.
The so-called problem property ordinance targets sites that have had four documented complaints for underage drinking, loud parties, disorderly homes, and the like, says Sgt. Michael O’Hara of the Boston Police. “Students and others leasing apartments are legally responsible for what occurs on the premises that they are in control of,” he says. If cops receive yet another complaint about a designated problem property, the recommendation “is to arrest the students controlling the property on which the offense occurs.”
O’Hara says this “ratcheting up” of policing follows “dangerous situations that occurred during the 2011–2012 school year.” More than 200 BU students, mostly freshmen, were transported to the hospital for acute intoxication that year. (Five students were hospitalized in just the two weeks ending this past Sunday, September 2.) The University’s concern involves both safety and academics: in one recent year, the median GPA for BU freshmen who needed medical treatment for only one binge-drinking episode was almost a third of a point below that of their class, President Robert A. Brown says. Their grades landed those students in the bottom quartile of the class.
By law, “keepers of disorderly house(s)” face up to six months in jail or a $200 fine on a first offense and up to year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine for subsequent offenses. Procuring alcohol for underage drinkers is punishable by a fine of $200 and/or up to six months in jail. Underage students who persuade legal-age peers to buy them alcohol can be fined $300.
Arresting landlords and students is the newest part of a crackdown against high-risk drinking that began last year. University, Boston, and Brookline police will resume increased patrols of known partying neighborhoods beginning this weekend, breaking up loud parties and issuing citations and making arrests for alcohol law violations. The weekly enforcement statistics will be published each Thursday by BU Today.
Those efforts angered some students last year but won plaudits from parents worried about their students’ safety and from nearby residents grateful for peace and quiet. David McBride, director of Student Health Services (SHS), emphasizes that student surveys show that those netted for alcohol violations are a fraction of BU’s student body. More than 30 percent of first-year students “report that they don’t drink alcohol at all,” he says. Elizabeth Douglas, SHS manager of wellness and prevention services, says about 55 percent of students report having just one or two drinks on a typical weekend night.
“The great news is that most of our students are conducting themselves responsibly when they party,” McBride says. “It is the minority of students who act irresponsibly and cause problems for other students.”
The BU Police Department has evidence that coming down hard on enforcement decreases alcohol-related offenses. The chart accompanying this story shows that as penalties for liquor law violations (the red line) went up, the number of hospital runs for dangerously intoxicated students (the blue line) went down. The statistics include citations by the BUPD only and not area police, says Thomas Robbins, chief of the BUPD.
The main concern of both police and BU is safety, says McBride. “When people behave responsibly, they are unlikely to find themselves facing law enforcement or other legal penalties. They also will be less likely to be injured or victimized, involved in fights, robbed, and so forth.”
Brown made the same point in a letter mailed to parents last month. Citing last year’s hospitalized students—whose blood alcohol content averaged .211, almost three times the legal limit, McBride says—the president reminded parents that Massachusetts forbids drinking by people under age 21 and that student offenders face required counseling and discipline under the University’s alcohol policy.
“Student alcohol use is also associated with sexual assault,” Brown wrote. “In addition to impairing the judgment of users, alcohol renders victims more vulnerable, and alcohol use is a significant risk factor for being sexually assaulted.” He alerted parents to the new BU Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center, which opened last week at 930 Commonwealth Ave.
“Boston University holds its students to a higher standard than the general community and we are proud of our students’ level of achievement and engagement in the community,” wrote Brown, asking parents to convey to their children the dangers of binge drinking and the fact that, in this matter, there’s no need to keep up with the Joneses: most students drink moderately, and more than a third drink irregularly or not at all.
Brown’s Matriculation speech last Sunday put it more graphically: “Having two drinks for an average woman or three drinks for a man in one hour will leave you impaired in judgment and coordination. If you keep drinking at that rate, you will raise your blood alcohol to a dangerously high level, leaving yourself incapacitated where others might take advantage of you, or simply result in you waking up in a pool of your own stomach contents, either in your bed, some other unfamiliar place, or at the emergency room. This could leave you evicted from student housing. For some, the consequences can be much, much worse.”17 Comments