At back-to-school festivities in the past few weeks, Elis have played hard-fought games of beer pong, downed vodka shots, wandered around with Solo cups, and received several-hundred dollar fines for doing so.
Police have cracked down recently against underage drinking because of last October’s change in Connecticut liquor law, Yale Police Department Sgt. Steven Woznyk said. With underage drinking laws now enforceable on private property, some students said they feel the need to be more discreet about drinking than during this time last year.
According to the YPD crime log, the department took action in 11 incidents involving underage drinking and 11 other liquor offenses since residence halls opened Aug. 29. Of the underage drinking infractions, seven were for minors consuming alcohol and four were for serving liquor to minors. All were punishable by fines.
During this time last year, Woznyk said, the infractions that were noted by police generally related to open containers of alcohol. By contrast, the new liquor laws — which make it illegal for minors to possess alcohol on private property and for any adult to knowingly allow a minor to possess alcohol on his or her property — give police the power to seek out underage drinkers if they are summoned to a private party.
“We’re not seeing anything different,” Woznyk said, in reference to the level of underage drinking. “It’s just that the new law allows us to conduct that enforcement legally.”
Most recently, police entered a Delta Kappa Epsilon party on Saturday, where citations were issued for serving alcohol to minors and for minors consuming alcohol. DKE was also fined for serving alcohol to a minor during Yale’s opening weekend.
DKE President Stephen Morse ’08 said the fraternity “takes these allegations very seriously and has always had nothing but the utmost respect for officers of the law.”
Students at a recent party in an apartment at 65 Lynwood Place had their night cut short when the police shut down a party hosted by the Viola Question, an improv comedy group. After carding minors holding alcoholic drinks nearby, the officers asked partygoers to leave and also slapped the apartment’s tenants with a total of $544 in fines for allowing minors to consume alcohol, one apartment resident said.
He said seeing the revised alcohol law in action spurred the students living in the apartment to agree on ground rules for future parties.
“We basically decided that we’re going to be more careful in the future, maybe limit the size of the parties and prevent people from taking drinks outside,” he said.
Some members of the freshman class have found the timing of the new law particularly unfortunate.
The YPD broke up a freshman party in his Bingham Hall suite during Camp Yale, Victor Zapana ’11 said. He and two suitemates each received $136 fines for allowing minors to possess alcohol.
“I appreciate what the police are doing, and I know they are trying to take care of our health,” he said. “But at the same time, I was a little upset that this rule came up only a year ago and that I had to pay a fine as a result.”
As word of the fines has spread across campus, other groups have taken note.
Members of the improv group The Exit Players had concerns about throwing an afterparty for a recent show after hearing about the disruption of the Viola Question’s party, member David Litt ’08 said.
“These fines are a new thing,” Litt said. “In the past they’ve just asked people to leave, but now we have to worry about whether or not they’re going to fine us $500.”
But Woznyk said the revised laws and their enforcement are important for campus safety. He said underage and excessive drinking can lead to health complications like alcohol poisoning and can put people more at risk of being victims of crimes of opportunity, such as street robberies and sexual assault.
The enforcement of these laws, he said, might contribute to raising awareness of these issues.
“Raising awareness may come from taking action against some pretty serious violations,” Woznyk said. “In the past, people may have thought it’s OK if you’re walking around drinking with exposed alcohol.”
For foreign students, the concept of police shutting down undergraduate parties is a new one.
Bulgarian Yordan Marinov ’11, who lives with Zapana in Bingham, said he was taken aback by the fines.
“It was a bit of a culture shock,” he said. “In Bulgaria, we don’t have such rules.”
Still, some students said they are not too concerned that the enforcement will hinder campus life.
“It seems like the only difference is that when people are transporting alcohol they are more likely to keep it in a bag,” Samuel Massie ’09 said. “I can’t imagine it having a big effect.”
A minor caught in possession of alcohol or a person caught serving alcohol to a minor can be fined $136, while the fine for drinking in public — with an exposed bottle or cup of alcohol — is $92, Woznyk said. Violators who pay the fine may also have their driver’s license suspended. Second-time violators may be issued a misdemeanor summons and have to appear in court. Woznyk said officers have not yet encountered any second-time offenders.