The Department of Public Safety’s propensity for handing out citations for minor in possession of alcohol to underage drinkers is notorious on campus. The University and DPS maintain that strict enforcement of alcohol laws is necessary for the safety of students because it acts as a deterrent. The trouble with letter-of-the-law enforcement on campus, though, is that if a student calls emergency medical services for help getting to the hospital, the police automatically respond. The fear of getting written up for an MIP in the back of the ambulance or in the hospital room often dissuades intoxicated minors from calling EMS. If the health and safety of students is truly the prime concern, the MIP law must be changed.
A citation for an MIP is a nightmare for students. The penalty entails a $400 fine and a mandatory court appearance. Understandably, students do everything possible to avoid an MIP, even when they are drunk enough to be seriously ill. If students go to the hospital on their own, police are generally not notified, but if they call EMS, then police officers are required to respond and an MIP is a strong possibility. Thus, students who are dangerously drunk either avoid the hospital altogether or seek to make it to the emergency room on their own even when it would be much safer to call an ambulance.
The threat of an MIP also deters friends from stepping in to help a dangerously intoxicated person. If a friend calls EMS for an ambulance, police may respond and issue MIPs to everyone present. Thus, students are pushed into extremely dangerous choices like not calling EMS and allowing the intoxicated person to “sleep it off.” Another equally dangerous option students might turn to is dropping their drunk friend off at a street corner to be picked up by an ambulance, something that is hardly advisable when a person is intoxicated enough to require medical attention.
Students have always argued that aggressive enforcement of MIP laws pushes student drinking – which is an inevitable part of campus life – further underground, to its most dangerous depths. The University has maintained that enforcement is the best way to cut down on dangerous underage drinking. However, making it so that even people who are seriously ill cannot call EMS for fear of getting an MIP is illogical from any perspective. The point is to keep students safe.
While the University’s intentions in curbing excessive underage drinking are respectable, the way that the authorities are carrying out the task is counterproductive. Indeed, some DPS officers seem to realize this themselves, because they have been known to offer students tips on how to avoid MIPs when calling EMS. While this gesture from some DPS officers is commendable, there needs to be a codified policy that protects intoxicated minors that seek help. There have been rumors that such a policy is in the works, and it’s about time. Otherwise, campus police are just forcing intoxicated students to choose between a clean bill of health and a clean permanent record.