Iowa City law brought to the surface

Under 21 law continues to have impact on Iowa City community

IOWA CITY- Recently, several downtown businesses failed alcohol compliance checks in Iowa City which brings attention to a law structured around under age drinking.

In June of 2010, Iowa City structured a law that stated people under 21 must leave the bars at 10 p.m., Sergeant Scott Gaarde said.

As to why it became law, Gaarde said an increase in emergency room visits, sexual assaults and fights. Something had to be done because things got out of hand downtown.

“The reality is, Iowa City became a destination party town,” he said.

The influx of people from out of town that were coming to Iowa City with the intention to party and to cause problems became too much, he said.

The solution to the problem was this law, and with every law comes punishment if someone decides to break it. Originally tickets were too expensive, to the point where officers hesitated to write out a ticket, he said. The city recognized that it was too high, and eventually made them more cost efficient.

“Despite the myths, we aren’t in it for punishment of people,” he said.

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What the officers want is voluntary compliance, he said. They want people to understand the city law, and why people should comply.

With people under age having to leave the bars at 10 p.m., there was some concern as to whether or not people would drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol at house parties. But he said decreasing the amount of opportunities for people to have alcohol in the bars helps.

Health is the major concern in all of this. Having healthy neighborhoods, and the downtown area maintains the quality of life that people want in this city, he said.

One thing that Gaarde wanted to be clear on was that officers aren’t required to meet quotas as to how many tickets they write a month. Nor are their salaries affected by how many tickets they write.

According to data from the Iowa City Police Department, in February 2017: Brothers, DC’s, Fieldhouse, Sports Column, Summit and Union Bar had at least five bar checks. During those checks at Summit and Union Bar, officers wrote out at least five tickets for each under 21 past 10 p.m. and possessions of alcohol under the legal age.

Leah Cohen, owner of Bo-James, has always been against the law. She saw the effect the law had on other bars downtown.

She said there were a couple bars that thrived off of the underage people and that those who didn’t change their business models are no longer in business. If bars didn’t go out of business there were a couple that downsized.

As a mother, Cohen felt like students were more at risk for sexual assaults, fights and also that they participated in unhealthy drinking because of the law.

“At least when people are in bars, there are people there that are responsible enough to cut people off when the person has had too much to drink, she said.”

She struggles with the idea that statistics are better, she said if anything it’s because people are more educated, not because of officers patrolling. It upsets her that officers don’t see the other end of it, where underage students are participating in unhealthy drinking.

“Their heads are in the sand,” she said.

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Although she worked closely with the university to ensure students were educated when they stepped on campus as freshmen, she has seen those orientation programs decrease and not become as effective.

Data from the police department also shows that officers are more active with bar checks when the semester begins in August.

Aidan Haverty-Dennis, a sophomore majoring in communications, is hesitant to risk staying in the bars after 10 p.m. She says there is too many things in her life that would be in jeopardy if she received a ticket. Although the temptation is there because of one problem.

“I can’t stay in the bars with my friends that are 21,” she said.

She agrees with Cohen and also is concerned for other students who abide by the law because in her experiences she has seen unhealthy drinking habits take place. Which differs from Sergeant Gaardes point of view.

“Binge drinking increases because people either pregame, or drink a bunch before they have to leave the bar,” she said.

She said she felt fortunate to be in a sorority where an officer spoke to her sorority about the specifics of the law and the punishment that comes with it. But not all students have that opportunity to have an officer in front of them.

Senior, Ryan McCarthy an enterprise leadership major, has had years of experience at the bars as he is 21, but never had the opportunity to have an officer speak to him. But he said he always tried abiding by the law before he became legal to drink. He knew what the repercussions would be if got caught in the bars past 10 p.m.

“You get ticketed at the bar past 10, and it’s going to cost you some money,” he said.

He also gave some reasoning as to why he would have risked being in the bars past 10 p.m. when he was under 21, and it wasn’t because he wanted to be a rebel.

“That just wasn’t my style,” he said.