Data show Berkeley noise complaints, underage drinking citations largely concentrated on Southside

Alok Narahari/Staff

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Documents obtained by The Daily Californian through a Public Records Act request reveal that noise complaints and underage drinking citations issued by Berkeley Police Department over the last year were most densely distributed in the city’s Southside area.

The data shows that there were much fewer underage drinking citations compared to the number of noise complaints — over the last year, BPD issued 3,007 noise complaints between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017, compared to 54 underage drinking citations between March 17, 2016 and Nov. 21, 2016. Because the locations of incidence weren’t listed for some of these reports, the heat map accompanying this article only plots 2,967 noise complaints and 49 underage drinking citations. Although the data indicates that the complaints and citations have been issued across the city, they have both been more heavily concentrated south of the UC Berkeley campus.

This distribution, however, does not come as a surprise to many community members.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel called the concentration of citations on Southside a “trend” that BPD has seen in previous years.

“There’s a lot of activity in those areas. There are, I think, quite a few establishments that have liquor licenses in those areas,” Frankel said. “Our officers that go out and do … alcohol enforcement efforts, they go to the whole city and they service the whole city, but the largest concentration are in those areas for those reasons.”

Daniel Evans, a member of the campus-affiliated fraternity Acacia, said the heavy concentration on Southside made sense to him because college life provides underage students with such easy access to alcohol.

“I just feel that if you were to tell me that there’s a large concentration of underage drinking in the city of Berkeley … I would easily say, ‘Southside,’ ” Evans said. “Because you have the most students there, by definition of having students in a university, a lot of them are under 21, and by definition of a university, a lot of them are going to drink. So, by those three factors, it’s going to be concentrated there.”

Evans said he is in an interesting situation because although he is in a fraternity located on Southside, he lives on Northside, which allows him to experience both areas. He explained that he also noticed that because many stores and restaurants on Northside close early — he cited the example of Cheeseboard closing at 9 p.m. — it doesn’t foster the same environment that Southside does, since Southside businesses tend to stay open much later.

Alcohol consumption

UC Berkeley Interfraternity Council President Eric Berger also said he was not surprised by the complaint and citation distribution. He was, however, surprised that there were so few underage drinking citations.

“Noise complaints, you can kind of see it’s a more or less ubiquitous distribution,” Berger said when he was IFC external affairs vice president. “I’m not thinking that has much to do with fraternities, sororities, dorms — it’s probably just a consequence of the fact that we live in a college town.”

Berger added that the citations were most densely located in Southside areas with lots of student housing, such as fraternities and dorms. He noted that there were almost no underage drinking citations on Northside and suggested that this could be because minors could be drinking within their own homes, as opposed to in more public places such as parties.

Police Review Commission Chair Alison Bernstein said she believes underage alcohol consumption is “a pretty big concern,” both from a health perspective and a safety perspective. She said she believes that underage drinking is present in many communities in Berkeley — not just Southside — but explained that the data doesn’t seem to reflect that.

“I’m not saying that police enforcement is the best way to address (underage alcohol consumption), but maybe we should be thinking a little more proactively about what to do about it,” Bernstein said. “I’m saying, if law enforcement is one tool we use with public health (and) restorative justice … then, let’s really think about it.”

Police presence

Forty-one of the 49 underage drinking citations plotted on the heat map were issued from Aug. 19, 2016 to Aug. 27, 2016 — UC Berkeley’s Welcome Week.

Berger said he believes that Southside would be more likely to have a higher police presence than Northside during this time, since there are so many social events occurring in that area.

“It’s something that a lot of us who live in the Southside community see at certain times of the year — when Berkeley police make efforts to crack down … particularly during recruitment and welcome week,” Berger said when he was IFC external affairs vice president.

Recently, BPD has been faced with both public praise and criticism regarding increases in alcohol-related citations. BPD wrote a record-number of 551 alcohol-related citations and 17 in-custody arrests in the first two weekends of the fall 2016 semester. Additionally, last month, BPD collaborated with UCPD and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, to crack down on alcohol-related offenses on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Frankel explained that the increase in citations was because BPD is better able to police the area, because of the annual grant the department receives from ABC to increase the number of officers during the first two weekends of Welcome Week. He added that alcohol consumption is much easier for officers to spot on the street as opposed to other offenses, such as marijuana use or vandalism.

Evans also suggested that an increase in issued citations may be due to the Responsible Bystander Policy that ASUC implemented in fall 2016. The bill aims to improve campus safety by excusing students who call emergency services for other intoxicated students.

“I don’t have any proof that more people are calling, but I will say that there is less reluctance,” Evans said. “Now, it’s more like the way it should be — like, ‘I don’t care about the repercussions of getting in trouble. I just want to make sure that this person doesn’t die.’ I have no concrete numbers, but there’s definitely a shift in mood.”

Chantelle Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.