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Police chief outlines intoxication arrest option

| Tuesday, September 24, 2019

At the beginning of the year, some Notre Dame students may have heard from their hall staffs that students who are dangerously inebriated can be arrested, and then taken to the hospital if they refuse medical care. Under Indiana law, an intoxicated individual in need of medical attention who refuses to receive it can be arrested for public intoxication, and then subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment.

Given its Indiana location, this legal option is on the table for Notre Dame. While the legal option is not new and instances of its use are rare, the Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) wanted to be sure hall staffs and students were aware of this option.

Keri Kei Shibata, chief of NDPD, said the ability to take intoxicated students to the hospital in a given situation is important because members of hall staff are not medical professionals.

“Rectors and hall staff in general are not medical professionals. They’re not qualified to care for someone who’s having a medical emergency. And there is no overnight place on campus where that happens,” Shibata said. “ … And so in those tricky situations it’s trying to figure out who’s going to take care of these students and wanting to make sure we’re not leaving students at risk, or leaving people with a responsibility that they’re not qualified to handle.”

While the legal option has always been available, Shibata said a “clarification” was offered to hall staff ahead of this school year to let hall staffs know they were not the ones who should be responsible for caring for dangerously intoxicated students.

“They would say … ‘Help us understand what should we be doing if we’re caring for these people?’” she said. “It was just clarification of that that really shouldn’t be happening. And that one legal option is this thing that no one really wants to do.”

The arrest option is only triggered if a dangerously intoxicated student is asked to go to the hospital, but refuses. Situations in which the option is utilized are rare — Shibata said there are only a “handful” of instances every year. If the person is too intoxicated to make a choice on way or the other, that person is taken to the hospital under the principle of implied consent, Shibata said.

Accordingly, the option applies to a small group of people: dangerously intoxicated individuals who still have the presence of mind to refuse medical help and do so. Nevertheless, Shibata said it’s better to have an uncomfortable conversation about a potential arrest than to have someone die.

“While it is an extreme last resort that no one wants to do, we would rather explain why we had to [make an arrest], to make sure they got the care they needed in when they were in a situation where they might not be making good decisions and explain that then leave them and have them die,” she said.

Students arrested for refusing to go to the hospital would be arrested for public intoxication, as under Indiana law people who represent a risk to themselves can be arrested on this charge. People could also be arrested for minor consumption, depending on their age, Shibata said. A short stay in jail — until the person sobers up after receiving the necessary medical care — is also a possibility.

“The impact on people’s record or the charges the same, it’s still up to the prosecutor to just decide ‘Is this person going to be charged with this crime or not?’” she said. “The difference is whether or not they spent some time in the county jail which is usually just until they’re sober. And they obviously have to go to the hospital first because the more pressing thing is their medical treatment. So someone could after going to the hospital, go to jail or they could be released.”

Any charges would be referred to local prosecutors, Shibata said. Cases could be cleared up using a process called pre-trial diversion, she said.

“The prosecutor in this county has a process called pretrial diversion, that is an option for anyone,” she said. “A student in that situation could contact the prosecutor’s office and say, ‘How do I deal with this?’ and the prosecutor would lay out what the options are and depending on the situation, it’s the prosecutors option to either follow through with charges and the court process and whatever fines — or any other repercussion — results.”

Students who have been arrested for refusing medical care can have their record cleared through a program called pre-trial diversion, Shibata said.

“There might be community service or education or something [and] some fees that have to be paid. And then and then if they do not have another incident that results in arrest for a year, then that charge goes away, like it never happened,” she said.

Shibata said the easiest way for dangerously intoxicated students to avoid arrest is to comply with a request to go to the hospital.

“We will explain to the person, when it gets to that point, not at the very beginning, we want them to just be able to make that decision,” she said. “But if it’s continuing to be clear that this person does not want to go and is not going to make that decision, we will explain to them: ‘This is your choice. You can either go or the only other option that we have to make sure that you’re safe is to arrest you.’”

Ultimately, Shibata said students should avoid drinking to the point of needing medical care and, should they find themselves in that situation, should voluntarily choose a hospital visit when given the option.

“While sometimes arrest is necessary, it’s not what we prefer. One of the best ways to keep that from happening is the GreeNDot model where people look out for each other, they don’t let each other get to the point of intoxication where they’re in need of medical care,” she said. “We absolutely do not want this to prevent someone from calling when someone needs help. So let’s try to prevent it from getting to that point. And then whatever influence friends and hall staff can have to help people make the right choice and get the medical attention they need. That’s the best case scenario.”

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a senior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland. Formerly The Observer's Notre Dame News Editor, he's now a proud columnist for the paper.

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