Partnership for Alcohol Safety indicates progress in Iowa City

According to annual report, high risk drinking behaviors are on the decline

IOWA CITY — Data from the Partnership for Alcohol Safety indicates that the drinking habits of students in Iowa City may be improving.

According to statistics from the 2012 Partership's annual report, citations, calls for service downtown, and high risk drinking behaviors are on the decline.

Between 2010 and 2012, the report said there has been a 46 percent decline in possession of alcohol under the legal age citations, a 26 percent decline in disorderly house arrests. There  was also a  64 percent decline in calls for disturbances downtown,  45 percent decline in calls for assault, 26 percent decline in calls for a fight in progress and 23 percent decline in calls for an intoxicated pedestrian in the 2009 to 2012 time frame.

The Partnership also tracks student drinking habits through the National College Health Assessment. That data shows that, between 2009 and 2012,  there has been 19 percent decline of frequent high-risk drinkers (drinking on three ore more occasions in the past two weeks). It also shows there has been an 18 percent decline in the percent of students drinking 10 or more days per month, and a 16 percent decrease in the average number of drinks consumed per drinking occasion during the same time period.

The ratio of Greek arrests and citations compared to arrests and citations among the rest of the student body  decreased between Spring 2011 and Fall 2012, following a policy that would impose sanctions on houses who exceeded the overall rate for undergraduate students of the same sex.

Kelly Bender, the Partnership's Campus-Community Harm Reduction Initiatives Coordinator, credited an organized effort by multiple parties for the improvements.

"I think what the report shows is that over the years, things have just been accumulating in a lot of different areas and so things are going on in the downtown community, at the city policy level, and the campus level, through law enforcement and different student organizations," Bender said. "A lot of different things are working in concert to create these positive changes and that's what we've always known we need."

She added that the diversity expected to come to downtown over the next few years — in the form of retail, office space, a bowling alley and a movie theatre — has potential to continue to have a positive effect on Iowa City's drinking culture.

Bender said that the only statistics that weren't included were ambulance calls to downtown, because the methodology for collecting the data has changed, only allowing them to measure data from 2010 on. She said in that small period of time, it appeared that calls went up in 2011, and then went back down, without the calls shifting to other neighborhoods that are considered high party areas.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of M.C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St.,  said though he was surprised to see decreases that dramatic, he feels some of those statistics have become subtly visible downtown in the way the streets are maintained and the shape that downtown is left in in the evenings.

"I've definitely seen an improvement. I've owned the building almost 25 years, and I was, in those early years, more like a zoo keeper and I think that's become a little less of a problem," Ginsberg said. "But I think as time goes on people will have more respect for the property and their own bodies. I think the education, while slow and methodical is meant to set up a good fundamental practice for any age group, not just 18 to 25-year-olds that a reasonable amount of alcohol is okay and an unreasonable amount leads to problems." 

University of Iowa students expressed more of a mixed reaction to the statistics.

"I'm not surprised by the findings, but only because it seems like the police had had a much weaker presence downtown than in the past," said Michael Maienza, a 21-year-old marketing major. He added, however, that he doesn't think there's been a change in the overall drinking culture.

But Cole Andersen, a 20-year-old management major, said he was surprised by the statistics, adding he thought the 21-ordinance would have led to increased enforcement and an increased number citations of possession of alcohol under the legal age.

"I'm pretty shocked," Andersen said. "I just think, I'm a junior, so I wasn't here in '09, but back then the bars were 19, and I don't know it just seems like more people were downtown at that time, and I mean just the PAUALA one in general, I feel like there were more 19 and 20 year olds going downtown after the law changed so there would be more PAULAs."

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