Just as every school year starts, the Department of Public Safety, with hopes of fining students into submission, brought the rule book down this past Welcome Week. With breathalyzers and an armory of minor in possession citations, DPS tried to quell unsafe drinking habits before they become a problem. But issuing MIPs is not the answer, and though DPS is carrying out its mandate, its heavy-handed approach is only making the problem worse.

Though MIP laws are intended to keep minors safe, they create an atmosphere in which student drinking becomes clandestine and in many cases, dangerously excessive. Out of fear of being caught, underage students take to drinking behind closed doors and usually consume large quantities at a time. Furthermore, because DPS can — and does — issue MIPs at hospitals, students often try to keep sick friends out of the emergency room, even if it means depriving them of critical medical attention.

While DPS is misguided in its decision to strictly enforce the drinking age, students must do more than simply chastise DPS for enforcing the law. Deputized by the state, the agency can always claim that it has little discretion in the laws it chooses to enforce. Therefore, it is vital to realize that problems come from the laws themselves. It would be much more reasonable to allow DPS to enforce laws that take into account the unique circumstances presented in a college town. The University Board of Regents does indeed have the power to establish local rules that can be followed in place of the state’s rigid statutes.

If a local government approves a local law which is comparable to a state law, it can choose to enforce its own law over the state’s. The Ann Arbor Police Department, for instance, enforces city law in lieu of certain state laws. The city’s effective decriminalization of marijuana — despite contradicting state statutes — is a case in point. If the Regents want to keep students safer, they can and must reform DPS similarly.

If the state’s MIP and drinking laws remain inflexible, the University should explore ways to divorce its public safety arm from state authority. The Regents, who serve as the University’s “City Council,” have the power to amend the University Ordinance — a set of rules concerning University parking and traffic citations as well as campus and building safety — and supersede state law. By amending the Ordinance, the Regents could alter DPS’s enforcement priorities and make underage drinking less clandestine — and less dangerous. If DPS is going to foster a safer campus environment, it needs to have the flexibility not to rigidly enforce state alcohol law.

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