Referrals won’t change drinking culture

Over the last four years, University police have issued fewer underage drinking tickets, instead issuing students alcohol referral forms for counseling at the campus Alcohol and Other Drug Office, located in McKinley Health Center.

While these referral forms may increase awareness of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, their effectiveness in deterring underage drinking culture on campus is questionable.

Underage drinking tickets have been on a steady decline, which has been met with an increase in referrals written by University, Champaign and Urbana police, according to University Police Captain Skip Frost.

“While we most certainly do enforce the laws as they relate to underage drinking, we know it is beneficial to provide the opportunity for students to take responsibility for their own actions and possibly be educated or counseled on their behavior and the consequences of their actions,” Frost said.

The forms, which generally include identification of the student and a brief synopsis of the incident, come in two versions. The “alcohol referral” form is given to students who are “highly intoxicated,” while the “alcohol incapacitation” form is given to students who are hospitalized or are unable to take care of themselves after drinking. Frost said the forms are given directly to the Alcohol and Other Drug Office, which determines the amount of counseling required based on the severity of the incident.

However, Frost said police have “not seen any noticeable downturn in our numbers as it relates to drinking behaviors (or) culture on campus.”

The effort by police to educate students of the risks of alcoholism is quite valuable, and in the cases of “incapacitated referrals,” offers help to those who cannot take care of themselves. But the success of the other “alcohol referral” form in decreasing underage alcohol consumption in the average student is doubtful, given this statistic. Counseling, although useful, is not as likely to persuade the average student to stop drinking as monetary punishment.

Of course, as with most students, we agree that a counseling appointment is much more appealing for the average student than scrounging up the cash to pay a ticket. But as the campus’ primary law enforcement body, we disagree that the local police’s decision to issue more referrals for counseling — rather than actual drinking tickets — will discourage campus drinking culture.