Community advisers heard loud screams and laughter coming from Territorial Hall room N471 on April 16.
Nineteen-year-old Amanda Elfering and more than a dozen of her friends were squeezed inside, drinking and shouting as they played a card game called “Tourettes.”
The CAs knocked on the door. When it opened, they found the partiers, bottles of liquor and a juvenile. The CAs called the police.
By midnight, a group of officers had administered breathalyzers and checked everyone’s ID. The juvenile, who hadn’t been drinking, was allowed to leave.
The 14 who remained were cited for underage consumption. They became statistics, a small group out of at least 4,000 given minors in Minneapolis since 2004.
Following years of steady numbers, reports of underage consumption citations in Minneapolis peaked at 721 in 2007, but fell across the city in subsequent years.
The University of Minnesota has defied this downward trend.
With more funding from the school – including $100,000 to combat drinking after football moved back on campus – reports of underage consumption violations from University police and Minneapolis police from a neighboring precinct shot up 33 percent in 2009.
Reports from University police and the Second Precinct, which includes the Southeast Como, Marcy-Holmes and University neighborhoods, accounted for more than half the city’s total minors last year.
If this fall follows 2009’s trends, reports around the University are set to top those numbers.
In fact, the numbers could explode as a result of increased police enforcement the rest of the year.
While the University has policies in place to dissuade minors from drinking, officials concede that neither enforcement nor education is likely to curb underage consumption. Officials predict even February’s social host ordinance is unlikely to yield a reduction in drinking.
Social Host violations
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed the social host ordinance in February despite opposition from students, including the Minnesota Student Association.
The ordinance makes it possible to slap a misdemeanor – which carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine – on the host of a party where minors possess or consume alcohol.
Only five social host cases have passed through the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office as of July, Attorney Jodi Furness said. Police say that number is likely to rise this fall.
The goal of the ordinance is to protect students and young people, Councilman Cam Gordon, Ward 2, said. The worst incidents involving alcohol often occur at house parties.
Ticketing is up to an officer’s discretion, and while judgment is important, Inspector Bryan Schafer, commander of the Second Precinct, said he has instructed officers to ramp up the number of social host violations given out this school year.
“Our goal is to up the arrests and increase those numbers,” Schafer said.
The increased penalty could act as a deterrent against loud house parties, allowing much-needed police resources to be spread throughout the area.
“For the second precinct, it is and continues to be a resource issue,” Schafer said.
The ordinance could also lead to decreases in serious crime, which are more likely to happen at party houses, Schafer said.
Southeast Como Improvement Association neighborhood director James DeSota said he doesn’t expect the ordinance to impact drinking rates in the neighborhoods.
Regardless, police expect to hand out more social host violations when busting parties this fall.
“Fall is a more indicative time to see if something is working or not,” University police Lt. Erik Swanson said. “This is the time where we’re going to have more problems.”
Numbers peak in September, April and weekends
With a large, concentrated underage student population away from home and on their own, “unfortunately, weekends at college have become about drinking,” Swanson said.
At times, officers follow the Enhanced Police Coverage enforcement model, more commonly known as the “party patrol.”
During EPC, there are about twice as many squads patrolling the area, actively seeking underage drinking, partying and noise violations.
The University’s $100,000 appropriation in 2009 funded EPC last school year and into this fall, Swanson said. The City Council is set to approve another $60,000 appropriation from the school this fall.
The University put up the money last year to combat an increase in partying expected with the opening of TCF Bank Stadium. But police say the stadium played a surprisingly small role in drinking around campus.
Swanson pointed to Halloween, which last year fell on a Saturday and coincided with a Gophers home victory. Partying numbers didn’t differ much from Halloween 2008, he said.
But minor consumption numbers did.
There were 16 minor consumption reports city-wide on Halloween night 2008, including seven from University police. In 2009, the number of reports by University police doubled.
Party patrols were out this past weekend, but citation numbers weren’t available as of press time. Police will also use EPC this weekend.
The Good Neighbor
Drinking habits that emerge in the dorms commonly follow students when they move out into the neighborhoods surrounding the University.
The University, trying to be “good neighbors to the communities around here,” continues to track students’ drinking habits after they’ve moved out, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said.
Police notify the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity when students receive minors off-campus. The office reviews all as potential violations of the Student Conduct Code and determines if sanctions should be applied. Typical repercussions include probation and counseling.
If students have a history of violations in the dorms, they’re under a more powerful microscope once they move out.
Last academic year, the office reviewed 242 reports for misuse of drugs and alcohol. It found 155 had violated the code of conduct mostly because they had a previous history in the residence halls, Rinehart said.
When police are on party patrol, they commonly drive around looking for violations, respond to dispatches and target problem properties – those with lists of complaints on file from Minneapolis – and areas where minors are commonly given. One area Swanson identified, 15th Avenue Southeast, accounted for 195 citations since 2004.
Certain units from Minneapolis police’s Special Operations Division will also bolster the ranks of officers from the Second Precinct, which typically has about 12 squad cars patrolling at one time, Schafer said. They’re commonly brought on to focus on underage drinking and violent crime.
But even that’s not enough to catch every minor.
“If we could put 20 or 30 cops out there to do nothing but confront kids walking down the street or walking up and confronting house parties, that would significantly curb underage consumption,” Schafer said.
In 2006, minor consumption citations jumped 55 percent in the Second Precinct over the previous year, likely related to a state grant temporarily paying for more officers, Schafer said.
But that sort of patchy coverage year-to-year can be detrimental, he said. Inconsistency often leads students to believe they won’t get caught drinking underage.
The needs of different demographics in the neighborhoods surrounding the University also cause trouble for police.
“‘Oh, the kids are coming back, that means parties and drinking,'” Schafer said. “That’s the connection [long-term residents make].”
Police attention and resources are often caught in a tug of war between the University’s interest in keeping students safe from violent crime and long-term residents’ cries to get rid of unruly parties.
While Schafer noted the importance of making the neighborhoods livable, he said police give priority to higher-level crimes instead of alcohol or nuisance violations.
But alcohol can cause students to perpetrate or become victims of more serious crimes.
“By cracking down on over-service and serving underage people, I think you would reduce the number of rapes, I think you would reduce the number of accidents, you’d reduce the number of assaults, you’d reduce the number of DWIs,” Schafer said. “I mean we have one common denominator: It’s alcohol.”
Residence hall policy
The University’s 10 Minneapolis residence halls and apartment buildings are home to more than 10 percent of the city’s underage drinking reports. The superblock – Centennial, Frontier, Pioneer and Territorial halls – accounts for 70 percent of those reports.
Alcohol is permitted in campus apartment buildings and in Centennial Hall, but only if all roommates, drinkers and guests are at least 21. Each semester, community advisers provide required alcohol awareness programming to residents.
But officials know drinking will happen, so when it does, the University’s goal isn’t punitive, said Katie Eichele, Housing and Residential Life judicial affairs coordinator. Instead, the focus is on teaching students how to drink safely, without condoning it.
When a community adviser discovers underage drinking, police often aren’t alerted. Rather, a report is filed with Housing and students generally meet with professional staff to discuss the case.
The meetings are used to determine if a violation occurred, and if so, how the student can be best helped.
In 2008, the most recent data available, there were 1,188 reports of alcohol or drug violations across campus referred to Housing and Residential life, though not all were for minor consumption.
But for some, the problem of underage drinking on college campuses is too entrenched to be easily solved – it’s a matter of getting people to party smarter, no matter what the age.
The University invests heavily in programming meant to be alternatives to drinking, such as the Gophers After Dark events at Coffman Union.
But it’s even difficult to identify how much University funding is going to curb drinking, Rinehart said, because there are so many different internal sources.
A University committee organized at the behest of President Bob Bruininks will begin meeting this October to determine how to best reduce alcohol abuse on college campuses. Rinehart, who co-chairs the committee, said it could culminate in a state-wide summit on the issue.
More than 39 percent of 18-year-old college students in Minnesota drink according to a 2009 Boynton Health Service Health Survey. That number increased to 60.5 percent by age 20. Even with all the resources at their disposal, police recognize they aren’t able to catch every one of those drinkers.
Following her minor citation in April, Elfering was instructed to write a paper about the incident and she and her friends met with the residence hall director.
Elfering said he “knew that drinking was going on … and he just wanted to promote a safer way to do it.”
Despite all the efforts, drinkers tend to find ways around the system.
When the police left Territorial Hall in April, the community advisers told everyone but the residents of the room to leave.
“Then this girl popped out from one of my roommates’ bedcovers and said, ‘Oh god, I’ve been in here for 45 minutes,’ “Elfring said. “She had been hiding the entire time in the room. It was really funny. She didn’t get in trouble.”
Police time and resources aside, it’s those kinds of tricks that keep minors drinking.
“We know that if we go to the front door of a house that somebody’s going to come out the back,” Schafer said.