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Underage drinking fight alters tailgate atmosphere

– An effort to crack down on underage drinking and other alcohol-related behaviors is yielding results at six college campuses across the state, but some students say it has taken the fun out of tailgating before a game.

Officers from the Indiana Excise Police are targeting Ball State, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Butler and Indiana universities this fall as part of the Intensified College Enforcement program. The goal: to “essentially change behavior,” said Cpl. Travis Thickstun, spokesman for the excise police.

“The numbers of people who go to the hospital because they’re too intoxicated, it’s a concern to us,” he, told the Indianapolis Star.

Police say they’re optimistic that ICE will help curb underage drinking.

So far this year, they made a record 110 arrests at the Sept. 14 IU-Ball State game and issued 99 citations at the Sept. 22 Notre Dame-Michigan matchup.

But they will need to collect several years of data to compare before they’ll know how effective the program is.

The reasons for concern are clear.

A 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that about 90 percent of alcohol consumption by those under the age of 21 occurred during binge drinking.

About 1,700 college students died last year from excessive drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Excise police Sgt. Bill Turner has seen the effects of binge drinking too often after a party gets out of hand. Students can end up in jail or in the hospital.

During IU’s homecoming game against Michigan State, Turner saw a young man wearing a mud-caked sweatshirt stumble toward the street. During field-sobriety tests, the 20-year-old man was unable to recite the alphabet.

He told police he had arrived at the tailgate party at 10 a.m. to start drinking. Less than an hour later, his blood-alcohol level registered 0.259 percent – more than three times the legal limit for driving – and he was sitting in a police car.

Students say such behavior on busy game weekends isn’t unusual, but they say efforts by the excise police and IU administrators to keep the festivities under control have tamed down some of the events.

Kaleigh Robins, a 21-year-old IU student, said the atmosphere at tailgates has changed – in part because of an increased police presence.

“I’ve never been ID’d before at a tailgate before now,” Robins said.

Students also are banned from playing music at the tailgates, and she said there are no longer any “handles” – half-gallon bottles of liquor that are staples at college parties.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said.

Kristi Tan, a 23-year-old recent IU graduate, agreed.

“It’s like old glory died down. IU’s just getting not as fun,” Tan said. “It’s not bad; you can just tell it’s mellowed down.”

Lt. Chris Bard of the excise police says students’ mindset has to change so that they realize excessive drinking is a problem.

“There’s a misconception that, you know, it’s just kids having fun, and they’re just having one or two beers, but that’s not the case,” he said.

“You were seeing kids that are belligerent drunk, falling down, can’t care for themselves. So it’s not kids having one or two beers.”

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