[Source: “New Tailgating Rules Will Mean More Citations, Fewer Trips to Jail to Prevent Overcrowding,” KCRG TV9, 23 August 2010]
IOWA CITY – The University of Iowa’s recent announcement to take a tougher approach in enforcing the law during tailgating and home football games has drawn concerns of potential safety issues and overcrowding in the Johnson County Jail from its sheriff, Lonny Pulkrabek.
But UI Public Safety Director Chuck Green said the increased awareness over law-breaking does not necessarily mean more trips to the jail.
Green said individuals committing simple misdemeanors such as possession of alcohol under the legal age, open containers, and public urination – activities law enforcement will be instructed to have zero tolerance – will receive citations and will not be taken to jail.
The UI is also trying a new approach in dealing with arrests inside of Kinnick Stadium. In prior years, those arrested have been taken to a holding cell inside of the stadium where they waited to be taken to jail. This year authorities will try a cite and release method.
“In the past we take all people arrested in the stadium to county,” Green said. “This year we will try to contact a family member or a friend that can take them away safely.”
UI officials released the “Think Before You Drink” campaign on Aug. 16, a plan to have officers place a larger emphasis on enforcing the law on crimes such as open containers of alcohol and public urination during tailgating. The UI will also halt drinking in university parking ramps and lots one hour after the game is over and putting a stop to all tailgating activities two hours after in all ramps and lots. Additionally, traffic checkpoints will be placed in an effort to curb drunk driving.
Pulkrabek said he is aware of the university’s plan to release offenders who commit simple misdemeanors, but is not convinced with the heightened enforcement it won’t create a burden for the jail.
“I don’t condone illegal behavior, but when you have sixty to ninety thousand people coming in, no one has the reserves to enforce the law on that many people,” he said. “I also worry about encouraging people to get into their vehicles while intoxicated with the time restraints. It is going to produce additional numbers we haven’t had.”
Green said discussions for stricter rules during tailgating came about after months of discussions between Iowa City officials and UI officials on how to curb binge drinking. From those discussions came concern about what the UI was doing to address inappropriate behavior during home football games.
A sub-committee which included several UI departments including public safety, athletics, student services, and risk management was formed to discuss what could be done. They found enforcement of the law had been too lenient in the past.
“Whether it’s public urination or underage drinking, we are going to be taking a much stricter approach,” Green said. “Before we have let a lot of people off with warnings, but people breaking the law will be cited.”
Pulkrabek said his office was not included in the sub-committee, nor did they ask for input.
“I think it’s a case of the university looking at their problem on a less-than-global way of looking at it,” Pulkrabek said. “You would think we could come up with a plan to look at the impact on the jail and locally.”
Taxpayers currently pay between $3,000 and $4,000 each home game for the jail to transport inmates to different counties to allow for extra room. Pulkrabek questioned who should shoulder that expense, especially with the amount of money the university makes during football games.
“Maybe [the university] can step up and help the county send inmates out of town to make the proper amount of room,” he said. “As we evaluate the number of prisoners in the jail we have to have a level that is not only safe for our staff to manage, but also to manage the inmates in order to provide for their safety.”
Green said the UI is not trying to prevent people from drinking and enjoying themselves while tailgating. The new measures are meant to keep people within the law and to create a safer atmosphere. He added the UI will be transparent in their actions, and will do what they feel is in the university’s best interest.
“We will continue to work with the sheriff and share information as much as we can,” Green said. “But it must be understood each agency has the right to enforce the law as we understand it, and we will continue to do so.”