Campus community responds to rise in alcohol-related incidents

Derek Remsburg/Senior Staff

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UCPD and campus agencies are working to combat increases in the number of alcohol-related illnesses reported early in the semester over the past two years, though it is unclear whether those efforts have succeeded.

High numbers of alcohol-related illnesses reported at the beginning of the school year are not uncommon with game days, back-to-school parties and the influx of new freshmen. However, whereas UCPD reported seven alcohol-related casualty calls from the beginning of school to Labor Day weekend in 2010, the number of incidents reported during the same time period in each of the past two years are about twice that many.

On Thursday, UCPD sent a letter to community members alerting them about alcohol-related incidents associated with Saturday’s football game and students’ return to Berkeley. Then at Saturday’s first home football game, UCPD officers were on site to enforce a zero-tolerance alcohol policy with the goal of reducing alcohol-related crimes and illnesses, according to a press release from UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya.

“Our experience has been that on game days, there is a significant increase in the illegal and unsafe alcohol usage in the campus area,” said UCPD Lt. Alex Yao.

At the same time, the campus has also implemented preventative measures to combat alcohol-related incidents, with a focus on freshmen.

The results from a survey in the 2011 AlcoholEdu program — a confidential, online alcohol education course that incoming students are instructed to take — show that 70 percent of respondents are nondrinkers, above the national average of 56 percent, according to Karen Hughes, coordinator for [email protected]

Hughes said AlcoholEdu aims to “change wider student population alcohol-related behaviors and attitudes.”

However, among students who drink, 37 percent responded that they drink at fraternity houses, which is more than twice the national average of people who drink at fraternity houses. And according to Troy Gilbert, director of Academic and New Student Services in the Office of Student Development, there is no direct action if a student does not complete the program.

“We are interested in incentives that reward student completion and education on the issues as opposed to punitive actions,” Gilbert said.

Additionally, in May, students expressed concern about police officers from outside the city of Berkeley in the Alameda County Vice Enforcement Team policing activities around the campus.

Many alcohol-related illnesses are reported from the residence halls. Steve Sutton, executive director of the Office of Student Development, said that in the residential housing, protocol for students who appear intoxicated can include contacting the UCPD.

There is a different situation in Units 1, 2 and 3 — where students need to check in with a security monitor who could alert someone if a student seemed in need of assistance — than at the Clark Kerr or Foothill complexes, where students can reach their dorms without stopping at a security station, Sutton said.

Estaban Barragan, a campus senior, said he never completed any part of AlcoholEdu but learned about alcohol as he starting drinking.

“I didn’t have any alcohol experience before coming to college,” Barragan said.

Freshman Elisha Flores said she also has not yet taken AlcoholEdu but said it was not a priority because she has already learned all the information from the course many times before and is not interested in drinking in college.

Chloe Hunt covers crime. Contact her at [email protected].