Massey on underage drinking
On campus, opinions on underage drinking come from various sources — the administration, peers, teachers and occasionally parents. Usually the local police are only involved in the dialogue after something has gone wrong and a student needs to be taken to the hospital, or an off-campus party has become especially rowdy. For students involved in these sorts of situations, the police are often depicted as bad guys who target students on the Hill. However Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey illustrates the difficult task with which the Waterville Police are burdened: maintaining a good relationship with students on the Hill while also addressing the issues of underage and excessive drinking.
Massey commented on the current culture in which drinking in college for 18-20 year-olds is socially acceptable despite its illegality. On an isolated campus such as the Hill, there can be a heavy emphasis on partying and drinking on the weekends. Massey recognized this and discussed the “enormous pressure for underage students to drink.” However, he said that since underage drinking is against the law, there will be “no leeway,” despite the societal construct of acceptable underage drinking in college. To the student body, he said, “As young adults you must make smart decisions. If you choose to break the law, there are consequences.”
The Waterville Police Department (WPD) has had to respond to frequent calls involving students on the Hill and incidents involving underage drinking. However, the quantity of calls varies from year to year. “Some school years are better than other years. Some years, big events occur and big summons happen where 30 or more students receive tickets for underage drinking,” he said. However, students’ incidents make up a very small minority of the drinking issues that WPD addresses. Most incidents are related to residents of Waterville or surrounding towns, not of the College. Interestingly, 65 percent of the arrests are non-Waterville residents who live in close towns and come down to the Waterville bars. These arrests create an influx of citations for the WPD, straining their resources. The WPD service center is allotted the budget and staff members for the residents of the city, but in actuality there is so much traffic in Waterville that the amount of people present in Waterville at a given time is usually double the residential population.
Drinking on campus usually only creates problems for the WPD when students have drunk to excess and need to be transported to the hospital. “On-campus [drinking] just affects the student population, as most people on campus are somehow connected with the activities,” Massey said. Off campus, the presence of neighbors adds a new variable to the equation. Neighbors often call in to complain about the off-campus parties due to loud noise, excessive traffic with cars and taxis, public urination and other disturbances. The off-campus parties affect people not connected to the College, and can negatively affect the town. WPD responds to these complaints and investigates incidents reported to them by Waterville citizens. However, if the party consists of students who are of age and does not infringe upon neighbors, Massey has no issue with it, stating that students have the “right to party.”
The WPD is “very involved in the College,” Massey said. For years, Massey came up to the Hill and discussed drinking with student leaders and provided a forum for questions and conversations. The student leaders were responsible for sharing the information about safe and legal drinking. Unfortunately, this “never worked well,” Massey said.
WPD continues to work with the College at the administrative level and with security to address alcohol issues on campus. Besides the underage drinking issues, WPD is concerned with the amount of binge drinking that occurs on campus with students of all ages.
Moreover, it upsets Massey and WPD that there is often a negative view of the police. “The student body shifts blame. Some students divert [attention] from the real problem of excessive drinking to negativity towards the police,” Massey said.
Massey and WPD want to continue to work with the students and the administration to keep information flowing and policy updated. While the police and the administration can work together in an attempt to control binge and underage drinking, Massey said, the real transformation “has to come from students. A change in culture is needed.”