Thursday, September 1, 2011

Berkeley 'Party Patrol" a Buzz Kill for Underage Student Drinkers

UC Berkeley police officer Brendan Tinney confiscates a flask full of booze from a 19-year-old student on Friday Aug. 26. (Photo by Doug Oakley)

UC police officer Gabby Jacobs, foreground, leaves a fraternity party in Berkeley on Friday Aug. 26. (Photo by Doug Oakley)

UC Berkeley police officer Brendan Tinney, left and Berkeley police officer Jessica Nabozny talk to a young man about fighting and drinking on Friday Aug. 26, (Photo by Doug Oakley)

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group
It's a balmy Friday night in Berkeley and UC Berkeley students, some away from home for the first time, are partying like crazy.
The corner of Channing Way and Piedmont Avenue at 11 p.m. is packed with students on their way to one party or another. They appear to be having a lot of fun. School has just started and studying can wait.
Two blocks up the street at Channing and Prospect streets, three obviously drunk young men holding each other up walk right by two police officers, oblivious to the presence of the law.
Here in the heart of fraternity land, UC police Officer Brendan Tinney and Berkeley police Officer Jessica Nabozny are up to their ears in alcohol-related violations.
But they take their time, knowing they are only two cops in a vast sea of underage revelers.
Together, Tinney and Nabozny make up half of the Joint Southside Safety Patrol, two teams of Berkeley and UC police charged with keeping parties under control and making sure students, especially those on campus for the first time, don't overdo it.
As the drunken trio passes, Tinney, using some very loud verbal cues, finally gets their attention. He separates one student and in no time confiscates a flask full of alcohol.
"You can't just go crazy here like Vegas," Tinney says as he begins writing up a Student Conduct Incident Referral form -- which has boxes to check for alcohol, drugs, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and other violations.
"I'm not trying to cause trouble, I don't cause trouble," the young man pleads.
As he talks to the officer, the student's friends are watching in fear that they could be next. The drunken scholar keeps trying to talk his way out of it. His slurring words don't help his case.
"This literally never happens to me," the young man whines. 
"I have a zero-tolerance policy," Tinney says firmly.
"Can't you just, like, dump it out and give it back and we'll go home?" he says.
While Tinney may have slowed these three down, other revelers were not so lucky. Over the weekend at least five students were taken to area hospitals by ambulance for "alcohol related illnesses," UC Berkeley police said.
But word about the police presence does get around and officials say the increased pressure and education is making a difference.
On top of losing his beloved flask, the 19-year-old's Student Conduct Incident Referral could really hurt. It is something that could affect his standing at one of the top-rated universities in the world. It's just one of the tools police and the fire department have at their disposal in a program, now in its second year, aimed at reducing excessive drinking and loud house parties.
On this evening, police cited six students for open container violations, one for being a minor in possession of alcohol, one for disorderly conduct, and two for public intoxication. Those numbers don't include citations from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, which had plainclothes officers giving out citations, or those written by other Berkeley police officers.
The coordinated effort between UC Berkeley police, the Berkeley police and the Berkeley Fire department to share information and intervene before young people get hurt came as a necessity.
A long history of noise complaints, deaths from binge drinking, and violent crimes including sexual assaults prompted authorities to come up with a more focused program, said Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. She said the two agencies were sometimes doing enforcement side by side but not sharing information or resources.
"We all wanted a way to combine efforts and have better communication," Kusmiss said. "And what better communication is there to have two agencies in the same car seeing and documenting the same thing?"
A noise complaint call at Lambda Phi Epsilon brought out officers and Berkeley firefighters.
First on scene were the police, who noticed fire code violations and called the fire department -- for which the fraternity will be billed $75. An inspector found mattresses over some exit doors and windows which could have been deadly in the event of a fire.
Last year authorities received 312 calls for loud parties and issued 143 warnings for noise. The students apparently got the message because out of the 143 warnings, just 16 of the party houses got a second noise complaint, with fines from $750 to $2,500.
But it's not just noise that the two departments are trying to stop. They're also hoping to slow down the booze intake of inexperienced drinkers, some who are away from home for the first time.
"This program really does work," said Nabozny, who has been part of the team for two years. "Just by our presence we've seen a decrease in the number of calls to loud parties and a change in behavior. If they can maintain their parties, it's OK, but I don't want to be the one who has to make that horrible call to a parent at 2 a.m."
In the last 10 years, Kusmiss said the department has filed reports of "about a half-dozen deaths or very serious life-threatening injuries as a result of extreme alcohol use."
"People have fallen off roofs, they've fallen and hit their heads," she said. "And the statistics nationwide are staggering in terms of acquaintance and date rape in the first three weeks of school when alcohol is involved."
Although both departments are focused on keeping parties under control so surrounding neighbors can get a little bit of sleep, Nabozny said students are still allowed to have fun.
If police come upon a party where students have a permit and things seem relatively calm, the officers go on their way.
"But when I go to a call and I can hear the party from a couple of blocks away, if I see what I call the tunnel, where you have intoxicated kids bumping into each other and they are flowing into the street and I see fire code violations, then we're going to shut it down and issue some citations," Nabozny said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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