It is a known fact that many students drink during their time in college. Most students do more than just drink – they binge drink.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol. Half of the college students who do drink choose to binge drink. Ninety percent of teens under 21 consume alcohol in the form of binge drinking.
Binge drinking is correlated to a series of problems, such as lower grades, sexual assault, risky behavior, injury and violence, and drunk driving. A new study revealed how campus law enforcement responds to these problematic situations and found the gaps where enforcement may be lacking. The study was published in the August 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota stated that many colleges vary in the amount of students who binge drink. They believe campuses with higher drinking rates are a product of their environment. That environment could include the presence of surrounding bars and liquor stores, fraternity houses, college-rental houses that promote underage drinking, cheap prices for alcohol and mass amounts of alcohol advertisements. These factors, along with the social aspect of drinking, like Greek life and college athletics, create a norm and expectancy for drinking on college campuses.
The researchers administered a survey to 343 directors of campus security throughout the United States regarding practices of alcohol-related incidents on and off campus. The study was the first of its kind to look into how alcohol laws are enforced by campus security on a national scale. Overall, the survey showed that many campus officers do not enforce citations for students violating alcohol laws. More so, many students were referred to other officials instead of court for punishment. Students were not usually asked to go to the student health center for an alcohol screening or an intervention. Parents of students were not notified.
The study indicates that most campus police would rather communicate with one another than enforce laws using proper disciplinary action. It shows the problem does not lie with writing citations, but performing the proper duties on campus. The study also displayed that the rate of citations, even for serious infractions, were low. Despite seeming compassionate to students, students may not learn the actual consequences of their actions.
Smaller campuses had fewer citations, due to enlisting campus security and not an actual police force. Many do not have a large enough staff to fulfill the proper procedures for infractions. Researchers also speculated that smaller colleges sit in small towns where students binge drinking is more noticeable. Community-based enforcement in these towns may not be enough to address the issues at hand. Larger universities in cities had more resources for enforcement and were able to conduct better disciplinary action for alcohol-related activities.
Researchers noted that health centers working with campus enforcement is key to cracking down on students binge drinking. Often, law enforcement officials are able to identify at-risk students who have a problem long before health centers can. Integration of the pair will promote student counseling, intervention and proper treatment.
Law enforcement will usually contact the administration before the health center, and often leaves it up to the dean to decide to bring in medical attention. The study’s authors suggested having a set policy in place that law enforcement can follow for any alcohol-incident, big or small. More attention was paid to severe incidents as opposed to minor ones, and campus officials usually did not act on minor citations they witnessed. Campuses with little action on minor violations were found to have a more serious binge drinking problem.
The researchers noted that campus law enforcement is only one small piece to the college drinking puzzle. There are many factors that promote and discourage binge drinking. As a result, there is no single solution. Campus education and treatment on alcohol abuse need to work in sync with law enforcement to get the problem under control.