UWRF five-year trend of underage-drinking tickets reveal drastic rollercoaster effect
April 20, 2007
From 2002-06, the five-year trend of the total number of underage- drinking tickets issued to UW-River Falls students each year reveals a rollercoaster effect with high spikes followed by a year or two of drastic lows.
Within the five years, 2004 had the highest year of tickets with a total of 262. For the next two years, a slow decreasing average of 32 percent brought the numbers down below 200, a Student Voice data analysis showed.
“The pattern I see is a year with heavy enforcement [during the high numbers] and a greater compliance the following year or two after [during the low dips],” Public Safety Director Dick Trende said. “This also depends on the type of students who reside in the buildings.”
In 2005, nine out of every 100 students who were under the age of 21 and living in UWRF residence halls received an underagedrinking ticket, according to the data analysis.
The two years had similar numbers in the amount of tickets given during the academic school terms.
Trende said he viewed the trend as a high compliance from students because Public Safety officers have never changed the procedures of apprehending or issuing underage drinking tickets to students who were consuming or possessing alcohol in the residence halls.
“Whenever we get calls, we enforce the law,” Trende said. “Anyone can report a violation, and we respond within the context of the law.”
In an event of receiving such a call, an officer responds as quickly and thoroughly as provided by their current activity, he said. The officers are not allowed to unlock, forcefully open or enter a room when unwanted, but procedures abided by an officer during a search include administering a preliminary breath test (PBT), investigating for alcohol presence and smelling for alcohol on a person’s breath.
“If they smell alcohol on a person’s breath, that is substantial [to issue a citation],” Trende said.
The dramatic lows in the numbers during a given year are not attributed to the number of officers available on campus or their inability to get to a residence hall to resolve a situation involving underage drinking, Trende said.
“It makes it very challenging to fill the schedule for our type of coverage,” he said. “We are certainly stretched to fill overtime.” Public Safety currently has four full-time officers and one limited- term officer, he said. The department is looking to fill the limited- term position in the near future with a full-time officer.
“Staffing impacts our ability to provide a service,” Trende said. “If there’s a delay to a response of service, there is a reason. We have a fairly large area to cover.”
When Trende took the position as director a month ago, a goal he wanted to achieve this semester was finding a better system to schedule his officers. Public Safety is not short on staff, yet it is limited.
Even though the five-year trend shows a rollercoaster of numbers with the dramatic highs and lows evenly spread out, Trende said those numbers depend on what is happening at the source of the situation — the students and resident assistants (RAs). A student’s knowledge of the price for breaking the law might also contribute to the low number of tickets during a given year.
“The RAs are very diligent when reporting [an underage drinking situation],” Trende said.
But it isn’t solely the responsibility of the RA to report such instances, he said. Anyone can report a violation.
An RA’s primary function is enforcing safety and security in their residence hall, said Kristie Feist, east area coordinator for Residence Life. Reporting underage drinking in residence halls is enforcing this concept.
Each RA is exposed to different situations during a 10-day training session before the beginning of the school year. During the program, RAS are exposed to scenarios, role-playing and feedback to learn about how to deal with a situation involving students who are drinking under the legal age in their residence hall.
“It is the hardest aspect of the position because it’s their peers,” Feist said. “It’s a real difficult position they are in.”
Having to deal with these types of situations, most of them are a difficult part of being an RA, Hathorn Hall RA Michelle Abts said; however, most RAs expect there will be some confrontation.
“Underage drinking is just one example of the confrontations that go along with being an RA,” she said. “There are many more positives with this job than there are negatives, and all of the positive experiences I have gained outweigh any difficult situations I have been confronted with.”
Abts said she has dealt with underage drinking situations, and many of the situations involved students who were very cooperative.
“It is important to understand that RAs are not ‘out to get’ people when it comes to underage drinking,” she said. “This is an aspect of our job, and we must follow the University policy already in place.”
Most residents have the perception that RAs are there only to bust them when drinking, she said, but they are really there to help and bring safety and security to the building.
“They do it because they know they have to,” Feist said.
For the students who have received underage drinking tickets, Abts said she thinks the process is a significant one. Many of the students not only have to deal with the monetary aspect, but also need to complete an e-CHUG file and write a report.
“I think by having the students complete this e-CHUG and report, they have to take time and think about their actions,” she said. “It forces students to reflect and contemplate their actions in the future.”
The cost alone might deter a student who is under the legal age from drinking because for a first-offense citation, it could cost $160 to $249, depending on the age and any other additional costs, like court costs and fees. If a student is between the ages of 17 to 20, a fourth or subsequent offense could be as high as $753.
Feist said students who receive underage tickets need to view it as a preventative measure.
“The first citation ... is a wake-up call,” she said. “It’s somewhat of a motivation to change their behavior.”