alcohol and the ‘burg

Brent Finnegan -- March 10th, 2007

The Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility (FAR), an organization backed by the alcohol industry, launched its first “community-based alcohol responsibility project” here in Harrisonburg two weeks ago. The program aims to cut down on underage drinking and bar patrons driving home drunk. According to the press release:

Over the course of a year, the project will reach community members and provide key stakeholders with alcohol education while arming them with the information to both consume and serve alcohol responsibly and to intervene in instances of intoxication.

The program is being put on with the cooperation of bar owners in the city, in conjunction with a JMU communications publicity project. “The goal is to use Harrisonburg as a template for other community-based alcohol responsibility initiatives throughout the country.” Looks like we’re the guinea pigs.

A quick look at the HPD crime stats shows that there are around 275 DUI arrests per year. If that’s the number they catch, you have to assume there are hundreds, perhaps thousands that they don’t catch. JMU crime stats show an average of about 87 liquor law arrests per year on and off campus, not including DUIs.

Obviously, every individual is responsible for his/her own actions regardless of how drunk they are. But I tend to agree with local blogger Corbin that the way in which Harrisonburg (and most American cities) has developed, the very locations of the bars promote drunk driving. I’m thinking primarily of the bars on the east side of town, zoned business, not mixed. Downtown, on the other hand, is mixed — business and residential. This week the DNR reported that 26 new residential units being renovated downtown. No need to drive if you live a block away from the bar.

Still, most of us don’t live downtown. And the HPD has a reputation for handing out DIP citations for bar patrons that have decided to walk instead of drive home. In the past, cars parked downtown on Saturday and Sunday mornings were ticketed. I cannot think of a worse policy. I hope the FAR project is able to coordinate with the city government and HPD on this issue.

-finnegan

7 Responses to “alcohol and the ‘burg”

  1. frank witt says:

    I heard alot about this on WSVA Friday. They didn’t really get into it but I guess, like you said, the town and its people are guinea pigs.
    DUI has always been a problem, but ticketing walkers is NO answer !
    If there were an “easy” solution I sure it would have been in place already. Police and neighbors complain when you do have parties at home, then bitch when you park on the grass after a few. Don’t get it??!!??

  2. finnegan says:

    I missed that WSVA story.

    Something else: the public transportation department busses around drunk college students on Port and Neff, but there’s no free public trans downtown.

  3. Jeff White says:

    I am not sure, but I think perhaps Police arresting or citing drunken pedestrians near the college campus for public drunkenness happens for several reasons – public order is only one of them. Consider the ages of the police officers making the busts.

    Also, the Community does have a legitimate interest in public conduct – especially when you consider what can happen, how that can degenerate – and what numbers do to behavior. A bunch of drunk college kids wandering around in a pack is a recipe for all sorts of other bad things.

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