Friday, July 24, 2009

Alcohol's Impact on Iowa City

July 24, 2009, 10:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m.

Police Toss Bar Closing Recommendation to Council;
Loh Talking Tough

(brought to you by*)

July 29 Update: The Princeton Review has recently provided America's binge drinking high school graduates some guidance with regard to America's top "party schools." The University of Iowa came in 12th. It's too fuzzy a number to qualify as one of Provost Loh's alcohol metrics but, if it were, my recollection is that we were 9th last year. So, aside from the potential loss of tuition from those UI applicants more interested in alcohol and athletics than in academics, it can be chalked up as modest progress of sorts. (The UI's 2002-03 Parent Times Online indicates parents are notified when their kids are ticketed for alcohol violations. Is that still the case?) And see, Chris Rhatigan, "Council denies license renewal for 2 bars; PAULA rates at Etc., Fieldhouse triggered recommendation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 29, 2009 (As I wrote in this blog entry July 24, below, "It will be a real test for the City Council next Tuesday evening. Are they willing to really stand up to the politically and economically powerful Iowa City alcohol industry?" Well, apparently they were, and in fairness I want to give them credit for doing so.)

Evening update, July 24, 10:00 p.m.: "And the beat(ing up) goes on": more alcohol-related violence and killing, before the day is even out. "Stabbing, Shooting Reported in Iowa City," The Gazette Online, July 24, 2009, 10:00 p.m. ("According to witnesses, a long-time patron of the Hawkeye Hideaway bar . . . heard a man believed to be a transient drop two bags full of empty pop cans and bottles. The transient then stabbed the bar patron. Kevin Grimm of the Hawkeye Hideaway said the incident was witnessed by an off-duty Iowa City police officer, who then pulled a gun and shot the transient.")

10:00 a.m. (original blog entry): Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine has made a radical proposal to the City Council: don't continue to grant liquor licenses to bars that consistently flout the law. What a concept!

It will be a real test for the City Council next Tuesday evening. Are they willing to really stand up to the politically and economically powerful Iowa City alcohol industry? Rob Daniel, "Police: No liquor license for 2 bars; Council to vote Tuesday on The Fieldhouse and Etc.," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 24, 2009.

Meanwhile, UI's Provost Wallace Loh is also talking a little tougher.

He [Loh] wants action.

“It’s trial and error, experiment,” he said. “Let’s do things — let’s stop studying it.” “This problem has been studied to death,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of articles with recommendations. What there is very little of is people taking action.”

So the partnership focuses its energies on specific, concrete ideas for gradually changing the culture, he said.

The UI is stepping up with police overtime on downtown patrol, beefing up alcohol safety education training for freshmen and offering even more intensive training to at risk groups.

They plan better communication with parents and cooperation with bar owners. They’ll schedule more Friday classes and fund more alternative activities, he said.

Loh’s goal: fewer alcohol-related emergency room admissions. A drop in blood alcohol levels, reduced incidents of alcohol-related assaults, fewer dropouts and more.
Jennifer Hemmingsen, "Attitude Change on UI Drinking on Horizon?" The Gazette, July 18, 2009, p. A4.

Although the test is "what happens next"? there's some reassurance in Hemmingsen's story and quotes. Perhaps most impressive to me is Provost Loh's reference to some metrics for measuring "success": alcohol-related dropouts and emergency room admissions, and blood alcohol levels in students arrested and tested.

There's really no substitute for the business adage "you get what you measure."

Speaking of which, what are we to make of the statistics regarding student arrests?

The Gazette recently headlined, "Athletes Not Most-Arrested Group." (Fraternity boys are.)

Might it have been more relevant/meaningful to look at some of the sports (and, presumably, fraternities) separately? Is it possible that the percentage of football players who get in trouble exceeds the percentages for members of the UI's teams in, say, cross country, golf, rowing, swimming, tennis, track and volleyball? Is it possible that some fraternities contribute a disproportionate number of fraternity members' arrests?

Here's how the Gazette presented the numbers:

Male student-athletes at the University of Iowa have had lower rates of arrest and citation than members of UI fraternities every year for the past five years, according to UI figures. . . .

Male athletes’ arrest and citation rates in Iowa City during the 2008-09 academic year — 10.5 percent — were nearly the same as those for male students living in residence halls — 10.1 percent. Fraternity members tallied the highest charge rate, at 15.1 percent. . . .

That compares with . . . 4 percent of the total UI student body. . . .
Of the 1,504 charges in the categories that were tracked, 75 percent were alcohol related . . ..
Diane Heldt, "Athletes not most-arrested UI group; Fraternity members’ rates higher, though athletes get attention," The Gazette, July 11, 2009, p. A1. And see, Editorial, "Hook students on positive activities," The Gazette, July 16, 2009, p. A4 ("Of the 1,504 criminal charges . . . 75 percent were alcohol related. . . . Yet another reminder of the UI’s struggles with alcohol. . . . [A] 2006 survey . . ., 'Research on Iowa Student Experiences,' found that binge drinking was lower among students who participated in . . . student organizations, honors programs and research projects with faculty. . . . Only students can choose to engage in positive, educationally purposeful activities. But the easier the UI can make that choice, the better.")

Some of the comments on papers' stories in their online editions emphasize individuals' "right" to drink alcohol (a right possessed, apparently, even by those who are legally precluded from exercising it) and the contribution to Iowa City's downtown businesses (i.e., bars) and "vibrancy."

But there are costs associated with our present policies -- economic, medical, social, and moral/ethical.

Universities may no longer have the responsibilities of parents for their students' every action (though they once did), but they do still have some obligation to contribute more to students' lives than freedom, football, and the rote learning and regurgitation of bits of information.

And consider the Gazette's report this morning regarding the Los Cocos bar:

Los Cocos . . . has been a popular hip-hop club since it opened a little more than a year ago, but in that time, the bar has had almost 210 calls to police that consumed more than 200 officer hours and ended in nearly 90 arrests. . . . Los Cocos has alcohol-related arrests, but unlike many other bars, it also has seen a stabbing, numerous assaults and shots fired.
Ashton Shurson, "Tough Crowd: Police Say Los Cocos Bar in I.C. Plagued with Violence; Owner Says It's Unfairly Targeted," The Gazette, July 24, 2009, p. A1.

And see, "Man assaulted in ped mall," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 23, 2009 ("Police say a man was assaulted early Wednesday in downtown Iowa City. Police said a man had fallen down and was knocked unconscious in the 100 block of East College Street about 1:46 a.m. Wednesday. He was intoxicated and had a large cut on his head, police said. Officers determined he had an altercation with someone and that he was tripped by the suspect, who had fled on foot eastbound through the pedestrian mall.").

Taxpayers are subsidizing much of the "externalities" from Iowa City's bar culture. We pay the overtime for the diversion of the police to the violence that is the aftermath of drunk patrons. We pay the City employees who clean up the vomit outside the bars on Sunday morning. We pay for the streets and sidewalks, and their maintenance, that are given (free, so far as I know) to bar owners who'd like to claim the territory for more patrons. We pay, either as taxpayers or in excess health insurance premiums, for the alcohol-related emergency room treatments. We pay for the property damage for whom no perpetrator can be found. We are left with the obligation to clean up our yards after the drunken hoards of bumblebees depart Kinnick. We pay for the prisons. And we pay in having our freedom restrained by needing to avoid some areas of town at some times of the week and day because of risks of alcohol-related violence and just all-round unpleasantness. We pay the "opportunity cost" of what our downtown might have been had the City Council not been so willing to give in to bar owners' drive for ever-increasing profits.

There's much more involved here than the libertarian ideology that individuals ought to be left free to destroy their careers and lives by whatever means they choose, free to reject the opportunities offered them. Even in its purest form, that assumes they are doing no harm to others.

In this case, they are.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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John said...

All these costs are real, but individual rights can't just be dismissed as inconvenient. Do young adults (i.e. 18, 19 and 20) drink irresponsibly? Yes, too often, just as I did. But should they have the right to drink, either in moderation or not? Absolutely.

Until elected officials acknowledge than dealing with young adults drinking via Absolut Prohibition (couldn't resist the joke) is ineffective, inconsistent with other adult rights, and unworkable, we won't be able to address these other very real problems. Indeed, the 21 age exacerbates drinking binges; when an "underage" adult gets a chance to drink via an illicit ID or a house party, they too often "make the most of the opportunity."

John Barleykorn said...

This is an old old problem, that has no real solution, only containment. There is no need to re-hash the history of prohibition to know it won't work.

They should get tougher on the bars downtown, but that will just send the drinkers to different places, namely small apartment party speakeasies. Still, thats probably preferable in terms of toning down the ped mall.

I can recall many fights in the 80's down there. This is not new either.

Anonymous said...

You mention opportunity costs and other economic factors but neglect the most important factor: tax revenues. I don't know the figures but millions of dollars go to the city based on sin taxes and income taxes. This pays for the cleanup and other things you mention and also allow for many other city sponsored projects that the city otherwise would not be able to afford. And as for police overtime, the bars are pay for that not private citizens. Also as for safer roads, the majority of underage students do not have cars, or need them to get to the bars. Why else would the majority of the cars on the road at night be taxis (more tax money).

And the majority of your posts are anti student. But without us and the university iowa city would not exist. This means no hancher, no hospital, and no sporting events that the entire state enjoys (which brings in more tax money). There are your positive opportunity costs which in my opinion outweigh the negatives.

One final point. I and most UI students are adults. We pay taxes, are registered for the draft if male, and can vote which has the greatest affect not only to the local community but also the entire nation. So what gives you, the iowa city council, or anyone else the right to restrict what we can or cannot drink?