As August fades into September and students return to Ann Arbor for the beginning of the fall semester, the neighborhoods surrounding campus spring to life with festivities. Some students quietly mourn the end of summer; others liven up their remaining evenings with a little alcohol.
Though college has been synonymous with drinking forever – or at least since our forefathers filmed “Animal House” – the Ann Arbor Police Department is determined to keep students on a tight leash. Over the course of Welcome Week, the AAPD handed out more than a hundred tickets for minor in possession, open intoxication and other alcohol-related violations. As one officer on “party patrol” told The Ann Arbor News over the weekend, “We call it our own freshman orientation.” Students, however, seem unlikely to learn any meaningful lessons from this misguided policy.
Ostensibly, the party patrols aim to protect students by curbing drinking. Indeed, curbing student drinking has been a goal for temperance activists and puritans in Ann Arbor since the University’s founding. For decades, sales of liquor by the glass were forbidden east of Division Street, the better to keep strong spirits from student bodies. But given the impossible task of enforcing strict temperance on a college campus, the AAPD may be making student drinking more hazardous. Fear of citation may do little to lessen drinking, but could stop worried friends from seeking the medical attention their vomiting comrades need.
The officers’ enthusiasm for ticketing underage drinkers is effective at little more than raising extra money for the force and teaching students to distrust the police. From a general public safety perspective, the inordinate amount of attention given by the AAPD to target the student population is a waste of limited resources. As the Ann Arbor News reported in June, violent crime increased 35 percent from 2004 to 2005. Many of the crimes reported occurred in the various student neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods where the “party patrol” is often preoccupied with keeping students from carrying red cups of alcohol. If the police are too busy catching such students instead of apprehending drunk drivers and violent assailants, this strains the entire department.
A police presence in student neighborhoods is not inherently negative. Quite the contrary: It would better serve Ann Arbor – and students – if police would focus their energies on keeping an eye out for the person who has drunk too much and may need medical attention, or the individual wishing to cause harm to others. Vigorous enforcement of drinking laws might help fill the city’s coffers, but it is doubtful whether the AAPD’s peculiar form of freshman orientation does much to encourage incoming students to drink responsibly.