Interview with Scott Wexler
A highly-successful university/community coalition to reduce students' off-campus alcohol-related problems is described by one of its leaders, Scott Wexler.
Scott, you and Thomas Gebhardt of the Police Department at the State University of New York at Albany, have helped create a highly-successful university/community coalition that has dramatically reduced problems associated with students' off-campus drinking. Could you tell us about it?
I'd be glad to. Our coalition focuses on environmental management. That is, it focuses on changing the environment in which people make choices about alcohol consumption and related behaviors.
This involves things like improving the enforcement of local laws and ordinances, creating a greater awareness of safety issues among off-campus students, and developing a comprehensive advertising and beverage service agreement with local tavern owners. We also work with landlords, residents, students and other stake-holders.
What does the tavern owners' agreement involve?
Cooperating taverns receive a logo to post at their establishments as well as on their ads. In return, they voluntarily agree that their ads will promote non-alcohol and food specials as much as alcohol beverage specials, will include a statement asking patrons to be respectful of neighborhood residents and behave responsibly after leaving their taverns, will stress the necessity of possessing a valid form of identification in order to purchase alcohol, and will avoid language or graphics that promote irresponsible alcohol consumption.
Was it hard to get cooperation?
The "Tavern Owner Advertisement Agreement" met with some initial resistance. However, once the most responsible tavern owners signed on, the others quickly came aboard.
I guess it's easier to be a responsible tavern owner if your competitors are also responsible.
That's right. And being responsible can actually be good for business by lowering expenses and raising profits. We've discovered that most students go to a tavern to socialize rather than simply to drink. They don't have to come to a tavern to drink, which they can do in their rooms and plenty of other places.
So you've increased law enforcement, created greater awareness of safety issues, and promoted responsible alcohol promotion and service. How do you measure success where it really counts? That is, in terms of actual student behaviors.
We use a number of indicators. For example, the coalition has maintained a telephone hotline that people can use to register complaints about student drinking and other behaviors. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of complaints dropped 73%
During the period between 1992-03 and 2001-02, the number of complaints about noise within the university area received by the Albany Police Department dropped 78%.
Between 1996-97 and 2001-02, driving while intoxicated arrests fell 67%, possession of a forged instrument (fake ID) arrests dropped 85%, criminal impersonation arrests plummeted 100%..
Total alcohol-related arrests (possession of a forged instrument, criminal impersonation, driving while intoxicated, indecent exposure, and open comntainer of an alcohol beverage) fell 81% during the same short period.
That's really impressive. Do you have any suggestions for others who might want to form similar college/community coalitions to reduce problems associated with alcohol abuse?
Yes. Members of the coalition attribute its success to a number of factors including the strong and visible support of the mayor and university president, an open membership policy that includes everyone who wants to join, extensive publicity, open communication, willingness to be flexible and compromise, and a long-term commitment to the coalition and its success.
It sounds like it also takes a lot of persistence, patience and hard work.
It certainly is, but the results are well worth the effort.
Scott Wexler is the Executive Director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association and can be contacted at [email protected] or at (518) 436-8121. He has been a leader in the Albany coalition since its inception.