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Student underage drinking arrests slow

Sarah Mervosh | Friday, September 24, 2010

Since representatives from the University and student government met with local law enforcement at the beginning of the month, the number of students arrested for underage drinking has decreased.

This change came as a result of increased cooperation and understanding on both sides, student body president Catherine Soler said after meeting with representatives from the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) and Indiana State Excise Police this week.

“To be honest, they were both as happy about it as we were. I think this has caused a lot tension in the community,” Soler said. “Everyone is just really happy to be moving forward in a productive manner.”

From Aug. 21 to Sept. 2, police sent roughly 70 students to jail for alcohol-related charges. Since then, eight students were arrested and nine were issued citations for minor consuming, according to police logs.

Excise police issued five citations to Notre Dame students at an incident early Sunday morning at 1632 Turtle Creek Court, said Indiana State Excise Police Commander Lt. Tim Cleveland.

Cleveland said these students were issued citations, rather than arrested, because they were cooperative.

“From my understanding, there were a lot of people there, but there were few under 21 that were actually consuming alcohol,” he said. “Everyone was cooperative and polite and mutually respectful so that makes a big difference.”

SBPD arrested six underage students for minor consuming at a Sept. 10 incident on the 1000 Block of N. Lawrence Street. Officers arrested two and cited four for minor consuming at a Sept. 17 incident on the 200 block of S. St. Louis Boulevard, according to police logs.

Cleveland said his meeting with representatives from Notre Dame resulted in greater understanding of the University’s perspective, and he said he thought the University better understood his side as well.

“Hopefully we’ve all seen a move in the positive direction,” he said.

Cleveland said he encouraged his officers to issue citations, rather than arrest, when underage students are respectful and it is safe to release them.

“I have encouraged my officers to use some discretion on whether or not they arrest or whether they cite and release,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not going to cite and release someone who tests .20 because that’s a liability for us to have someone who is under 21 and who is twice the legal limit walking around where they could get hit by a car or something could happen to them.”

Nick Ruof, chief of staff, who also attended the meetings with the police, said officers are, in general, using more discretion.

“They are using discretion when they start issuing [minors in consumption] or when they approach a situation with underage drinkers,” he said. “They are using a lot more discretion than they would before.”

But students have also done their part to mitigate conflict with police, Soler said.

“Students have made more efforts to be safe and respectful and that’s definitely paying off,” she said.

Soler said the meetings were also informative about the internal workings of the police system.

After the first set of meetings with the University and student government, SBPD officers began to activate body microphones, which would record interactions when busting parties.

Soler said SBPD officers have activated their microphones, but have not checked them yet because there has not been a complaint about an interaction.

Ruof said he learned that underage students arrested for minor consumption do not have to be read their rights.

“Even though they put you in handcuffs, they’re not interrogating,” he said. “The only time they are going to read you your rights is if they interrogate you about the situation.”

As a result of the meetings, student government created a task force that will research how other universities interact with local law enforcement and Soler hopes to draw up a more formal definition of how the student body relates with police.

She also plans to compile a list of Indiana’s alcohol laws to send students, because some laws may be different than in their home states.

Soler said, overall, the meetings were productive.

“It’s been a great effort on both parts,” she said.