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University of Iowa campus drug violations drop, alcohol referrals up

'There's still work to do,' UI rep says

Oct 9, 2018 at 7:40 pm
    The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

    IOWA CITY — University of Iowa police drug-abuse arrests and disciplinary referrals have dropped dramatically in recent years, even as its on-campus, alcohol-related referrals have ticked up, according to a recently released annual security report.

    The downward trend in drug-related violations runs counter to a 2018 “college health assessment” released in August that reported marijuana use at its highest since at least 1991 — hitting 34 percent, a 5 percentage point jump over last year.

    That survey of 713 students in spring 2018 also reported increases in cocaine use, from 3 to 5 percent, and prescription stimulant abuse, up from 15 to 20 percent.

    It also found UI students more likely to use alcohol and engage in high-risk drinking — with 23 percent having used alcohol on 10 or more days in the past 30, compared with 19 percent last year.

    The UI police uptick in campus liquor-law disciplinary referrals also comes as UI dropped off the infamous Princeton Review “party schools” list, where Iowa appeared for years, including the top spot in 2013.

    The UI Department of Public Safety is wary about drawing conclusions from one year’s data, according to a UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce.

    And officials note the fall 2017 opening of Catlett Residence Hall — the biggest on campus, with more than 1,000 beds — might have something to do with the climb from 649 liquor-law referrals in campus housing in 2015 to 682 referrals in 2017.

    That theory, though, contradicts the sharp drop in UI police drug referrals and arrests:

    • On-campus drug arrests dropped from 59 in 2015 to 8 in 2017 and from 112 to 78 on public property.

    • Drug-related disciplinary referrals in campus housing dropped from 58 in 2015 to 39 in 2017.

    Bruce said officers have “not made any significant changes in patrol or enforcement activities on campus.”

    “Therefore, we can’t speculate on what might account for minor increases and decreases year to year,” she said in an email.

    The department has, however, shifted some officers away from the downtown bar scene, according to Bruce, possibly explaining drops in public-property arrests for alcohol and drug violations.

    “Over the last few years, we have de-emphasized our downtown patrol (bar checks, mandatory patrols, etc.) in order to focus on the safety of campus and increased our engagement with the student population,” Bruce said, noting that “could have an impact on the number of alcohol-related offenses our officers observe on public property.”

    Students also have had more time to absorb and comply with Iowa City’s 21-ordiance, which prohibits anyone under 21 from entering bars after 10 p.m., Bruce said. And Iowa City police numbers, like those reported by UI police, show decreases in some alcohol-related categories from the 2016 to 2017 calendar years.

    Iowa City police reported 759 public intoxication charges in 2016 and 533 in 2017. The department also reported fewer charges for being in a bar under age 21.

    “We are pleased that we continue to make incremental progress to curbing high-risk drinking, but there’s still work to do, and the university will continue to explore additional efforts,” Bruce said.

    The UI since 2010 has been updating three-year “alcohol harm reduction plans” aimed at creating a culture shift away from high-risk drinking and setting targets for improvement.

    The current plan, which runs from 2016 to 2019, reports a 23 percent decrease from 2009 to 2015 in students who engaged in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks.

    It reported a 28 percent decline in students who drank on 10 or more days in the last month.

    The university’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Advisory Committee is in the process of creating a new three-year plan, which Bruce said will include a “comprehensive list of evidence-based strategies to continue addressing the harms of college drinking” and also address survey data showing an increase in marijuana and other illicit drug use.

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