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Archive for Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lincoln lessons

Lawrence and Kansas University should take a hard look at the successful efforts to curb high-risk drinking among young people in Lincoln, Neb.

March 13, 2010

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Judging from the experience of the University of Nebraska and its hometown of Lincoln, it would be wrong for Lawrence and Kansas University officials to think they can’t make a difference when it comes to underage and excessive alcohol consumption.

In a series of reports earlier this week, the Journal-World details the successful efforts of Lincoln and NU to curb high-risk drinking among college students. Over the last decade, they have been able to document reductions in binge drinking, crime and neighborhood complaints about party disturbances.

They also are proud to say that no NU students have ever died on campus because of alcohol.

Obviously, that’s a claim KU can’t match, having recorded two alcohol fatalities last year. In fact, every issue raised in Lincoln has been an issue here: binge drinking, fake IDs, off-campus parties, neighborhood noise.

KU and Lawrence officials are concerned by these things, but have been unable to mount an effective attack. For too many, it seems like a problem that is too big for rules and law enforcement to solve.

But apparently, not in Lincoln. Some of the tactics used there might be considered heavy-handed in Lawrence, but maybe we should take another look. Obviously, Lincoln is doing something right.

First, it wasn’t a quick fix. What has occurred in Lincoln took more than a decade during which enforcement efforts faced resistance from students and others. In an online chat on LJWorld.com Thursday, Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said long-term, consistent enforcement policies were the key to changing the culture in Lincoln. Laws had consequences that were enforced.

Nebraska state government also got involved about five years ago, Casady said, by implementing a new drivers license that is one of the nation’s most difficult licenses to fake. The new licenses make it easier for both bar owners and law enforcement officers to curb underage drinking.

The statistics collected in Lincoln are impressive. Student surveys show declines in a whole list of alcohol-related issues, including a drop in the binge drinking rate from 62 percent in 1997 to 45.1 percent in 2008. A number Lawrence’s Oread Neighborhood might find interesting is the decline in Lincoln’s party disturbance reports from 1,862 in 2005 to 1,061 in 2009.

Over the last decade, Lincoln and NU officials appear to have accomplished a major shift in the drinking culture in Lincoln. Would the same measures work in Lawrence and at KU? Maybe or maybe not. The lesson to learn from Lincoln is that we shouldn’t be too accepting of the status quo. Where there’s a will to change, there’s also a way.

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