Boston Police Move to Arrest-First Policy for Alcohol Laws
BU enforcement continues after violations, hospital runs plummet
Starting next month, Boston police operating in the BU area will make arrest the “preferred response” to drinking law violations.
The move follows the deaths of two Boston-area college students during the last academic year. In one, a BU student died after attending a fraternity event where alcohol was served. That incident led to the suspension of the BU chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu. The second involved a New England Institute of Art student who was stabbed to death at a New Year’s Eve party in Allston.
“Last year, there was a lot of activity in the GAP [the area around Gardner, Alcorn, and Pratt Streets]—assaults, sexual assaults, and robberies,” says Superintendent William Evans of the Boston Police Department. “We want to get out there early this year and set the tone. We are going to come down a little harder at the outset than we did last year. When a party gets out of control, we’re going to take action.”
Boston University Police Department Captain Robert Molloy told a meeting of BU’s alcohol task force earlier this month that the arrest-first strategy had been approved by Captain Wayne Lanchester, the Boston police commander for Allston and Brighton.
Lanchester “really wants to get his arms around the problem quickly,” Molloy told the task force, meeting to discuss BU’s enhanced enforcement of alcohol laws, which has been in place for the past two years. BUPD officers will continue to use their discretion when they find students committing alcohol violations, Molloy said after the meeting.
“In most cases, our officers summons the person,” he said. “However, each case is different, and there may be circumstances where the officer decides to make an arrest.”
Boston also has a “problem property” ordinance, which allows police to arrest landlords and tenants of apartments with habitual alcohol violations.
BU modeled its alcohol enforcement strategy—increased police patrols of party neighborhoods in collaboration with Boston and Brookline police, dispersing loud parties, arrests and citations for offenders, and weekly publication during the fall semester of enforcement stats on BU Today—on a similar plan at the University of California, where off-campus drunkenness ebbed as a result of the action. BU officials hope that the policies played a role in last year’s heartening drop in alcohol-related hospital transports of students, as well as a decline in alcohol violations.
Elizabeth Douglas, manager of wellness and prevention services at Student Health Services, says 158 students went to the hospital last year for severe intoxication, compared to 211 the previous year and 248 the year before that.
“We don’t have any hard data on why there were so many fewer” incidents, said Jack Weldon, associate dean of students. Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services, said that while a similarly dramatic drop this year would be difficult to achieve, the University wants to keep up the “negative movement.”
BU is also stressing responsible drinking education, beginning before the academic year starts. For the first time, this year the University is requiring incoming first-year students to take an online alcohol-education course that seeks to dispel some popular myths about wanton campus drinking (35 percent of BU first-years don’t imbibe at all). The course, AlcoholEdu for College, has been found to reduce frequent drinking and binge drinking.
In last month’s welcome letter to first-year student families, President Robert A. Brown asked parents to discuss responsible drinking and Massachusetts alcohol laws with their children. Brown warned that excessive drinking can torpedo academic performance and promote assaults, including sexual assaults.
“Some first-year students—and even some parents—accept the notion that an evening of heavy alcohol consumption is an inevitable and common rite of passage, and some assert that a campus should be a virtual sanctuary from local laws,” Brown wrote. “We do not take this position.”
Speaking at the task force meeting, David McBride, director of Student Health Services, suggested expanding what he called “our currently most effective intervention” to promote safe drinking: BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students). The program provides high-risk drinkers with personalized information about their alcohol use.
In a 2012 BU survey, 47 percent of students who completed BASICS reported abstaining or drinking on a monthly basis, or even less often, a figure that had been just 27 percent before the intervention.
McBride said he’d like to see every student who has to go to the hospital for severe intoxication take the program. Expanding it would require more staff, said William DeJong, a School of Public Health professor who develops online alcohol education for campuses nationally.
While many students groused about the alcohol enforcement after its inception three falls ago, University leaders point to the drop in violations and hospital visits, the support of parents, and the plaudits from residents of formerly noisy neighborhoods.51 Comments