Needless to say, this story created a great deal of concern for many of us, who would rather have tipsy students walk than drive. The notion of arresting students who are making wise choices just seems outrageous.
So I did what any citizen would do. I snatched up my phone and called the mayor. Oxford mayor Pat Patterson is an old friend. His mother was my sixth-grade teacher, he roomed with my brother in college and he provided me with part-time employment from time to time as a student. So we can speak freely.
And what Pat told me in no uncertain terms is that there is no city policy to arrest “drunk walkers.” And in fact, Pat gave me an internal police memo written before the Oxford Eagle story that said as much. I’m not going to reprint the whole memo as it contains some internal police content, but here’s a portion:
“As you are aware we have had an increase in students walking home from the bars. This is great news and shows they are trying to do the right thing. But this also brings other problems.Now I’m sure that there have been arrests made over the years that shouldn’t have been made. Following the 2006 death of UPD officer Robert Langley, who was dragged to his death by a drunken Ole Miss student, police were very aggressive about arresting students who had been drinking, whether they were on foot or behind the wheel. But it is not current policy to bother students on foot who aren’t disturbing the peace or breaking the law.
“The main problem is the increase in vandalism and noise disturbances on their way home. They have been knocking over mail boxes, stealing chairs off porches, dumping trash cans over, etc. etc.etc.
“We will have Zero Tolerance for anyone being public drunk, loud, disorderly or trying to destroy someone else’s property. In saying this I do not expect people who are not causing a disturbance to be arrested.”
But students and others do need to understand that there are some real problems with having several thousand drunken college students roaming the streets at midnight. Vandalism is a serious problem. Loud noise is a serious problem. As a parent with two children, I’ve come to expect a certain amount of screaming at 1 a.m., but there does need to be a limit.
A couple of weeks ago an 80-year-old man had his front door bashed in by a drunken student who was confused as to his place of residence. If the key don’t fit, dude, maybe you’re at the wrong place! It’s a fine line: Do the police wait until the student bashes in an old man’s door, or do they arrest him as he stumbles down the sidewalk, clearly in a drunken stupor?
Much of the problem that Oxford has with rowdy students has to do with the university’s crackdown on student drinking in fraternity houses. There was a time – a better time – when students drank beer and partied in their fraternity houses and if they had too much to drink they went upstairs and found a spare sofa and sacked out for the night. So Fraternity Row has essentially moved to the Oxford Square.
If the university wants to send its students into Oxford to drink and make merry, that’s fine. But the university ought to pony up some money to help police these kids to make sure they get home safely without harming or disturbing the residents of Oxford. It’s not too much to ask.
If Oxford Police are arresting students who are just a little bit tipsy and not causing a disturbance – say a blood alcohol content of below .15 – then they shouldn’t and the city should take measures to stop them. I do not doubt that there have been some “innocent” students arrested, and the city officials and police chiefs need to work together to see to it that these arrests do not happen.
At the same time vandalism is a serious problem. Late-night noise is a serious problem. Stumbling drunk students are a problem. The police have a duty to get these kids off the street and to protect the local citizenry.
So the best advice for drunk students leaving bars is this: If you are really drunk, or feel the urge to make a lot of racket or tear something up, take a taxi home.