When it comes to havoc-wreaking college bashes, UI has company
CHAMPAIGN — They're not all called Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, but the debauchery is far from unique to the University of Illinois.
Students at other schools have their own alcohol-infused signature events, and the authorities on each campus have their own ways of dealing with it.
In Champaign-Urbana, the plan for today is to saturate campus with extra police and issue hundreds of tickets for underage drinking and public possession of alcohol. Police will crash apartment parties and check bars to keep drinks out of the hands of anyone under 21 years old.
"Keep your party small," is Champaign police Lt. Jim Clark's advice to party hosts. He reminds them that party hosts can be arrested for illegal activity happening under their watch.
Campus and police officials have put together public service announcements and taken to social media to warn students about the perils of underage drinking and Unofficial shenanigans. The dominating message: "Don't let a momentary lapse in judgement ruin your future."
Champaign Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Don Gerard issued an emergency order limiting the sale of alcohol at campus bars and liquor stores today and Saturday. Liquor commissioners before him have done the same.
The strategies are intended to "manage and discourage" Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, said Renee Romano, the UI's vice chancellor for student affairs.
But the party continues into its 18th year, and students still have no trouble getting their hands on the booze.
"It seems to be working the best we can," Clark said. "Unless somebody's got a better idea. I'm always open to suggestions."
Here's a look at similar events on other Big Ten campuses and how each has dealt with it.
State Patty's Day
The event at Penn State gained steam several years ago and was held again last Saturday, but university officials have found a way to keep downtown dry in State College, Pa.
The university pays bars, restaurants and beer distributors to disallow alcohol sales during the event — depending on its maximum occupancy, a business can accept up to $7,500 to stop selling drinks. This year, 34 of 35 downtown businesses took the buyout at a cost of more than $180,000 to the university.
It's the second year Penn State has tried it, said university spokesman Bill Zimmerman.
"We saw a lot of encouraging results," he said. "Arrests and citations were down about 37 percent. Alcohol overdose cases at the local ER went down 31 percent."
The dry zone allows police to focus more on residential areas, he said.
It also helps that the fraternities have banned State Patty's Day events and the sorority council has disallowed guests at their houses. The university's housing department has limited residents to one guest per room.
"There's still a lot of ground for us to gain," Zimmerman said. "There are encouraging signs that this party is kind of falling out of favor with the students."
The University of Wisconsin's annual Halloween party has a wild past, but police say it's now something Madison can be proud of since the city took over and rebranded the event in 2007.
Once a "big, open free-for-all," the city has turned the party into gated street festival with sponsors, bands and tickets ($8 in advance at $12 at the door in 2013). Madison police estimated that last October's festival drew 35,000 attendees and police arrested 28 people.
"The old Halloween party had gotten to a point where there were riot or near riot conditions taking place," said Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain.
It was a major decision for city officials to take control of the party, DeSpain said. But now, arrests have "plummeted," it's less of a burden on tax dollars and even some families attend.
"It's not just students, that's for sure," DeSpain said.
The Little 500
Indiana University students schedule parties around what would otherwise be an innocuous spring bicycle race in Bloomington.
The Little 500 is the largest collegiate bicycling race in the country, according to its website, and began in 1951 as a way to raise scholarship money. The Indiana University Student Foundation has given away more than $1 million to undergraduates since it started.
This year, races will be held on April 25 and 26. Like Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, it draws a big crowd of students from other colleges and universities who come to celebrate events other than the races.
Authorities concentrate more police officers in Bloomington during the events, and they arrested 235 people on 285 charges during the Little 500 in 2013 — the number was a new record, according to the Indiana State Excise Police. The tickets were largely for drug and alcohol offenses, and roughly half of them went to non-IU students.