Barely a week ago, Penn State University and the State College community embraced the annual Penn State THON event, held by the world's largest student philanthropy organization. There was much celebration over the success of the event, only to be almost immediately overshadowed by the dread of the following weekend's headlining event - State Patty's Day. Much has been said this past week about the upcoming State Patty's Day weekend, all of it negative. As a lifetime Centre County resident, Penn State alumnus, and State College criminal defense attorney, I agree that this annual event is harmful to the community and something needs to be done.
Subsidies for not Serving Alcohol
Over the past several years, the police departments have been vocal about their displeasure with State Patty's Day, a student organized weekend event that includes a sea of green "State Patty's Day" shirts, excessive drinking, and destructive behavior. In an effort to reduce the negative fallout from this event, 34 downtown businesses have agreed to forego selling alcoholic beverages on Saturday in exchange for a $5,000.00 subsidy, a majority of the money coming from campus parking fees collected during previous State Patty's Day weekends. The committee spearheading this plan hopes that by reducing the availability of alcohol downtown, the out-of-towners will decide not make the trip to Happy Valley.
Where there's a Will, There's a Way
Is the committee assuming that these out-of-town State Patty's Day partiers have no other connections to the area and only are looking for a party? More than likely, the majority of these people have friends that are Penn State students, who, if they are participating in State Patty's Day, will have been hard at work on alternate party plans. The old adage, "where there's a will, there's a way," applies to this situation. A PSU spokesperson recognized this by stating that with the downtown being alcohol-free, the police will focus on breaking up house parties. There's a very real possibility that the $170,000.00 solution is not solving the problem but is relocating it instead. Given the exodus of drinking from bars to house parties, it can be expected that the police will be filing many charges related to Furnishing Alcohol to Minors. The fraternities have pledged to not have parties, but there are plenty of student occupied houses and apartment buildings to patrol.
Reduced Alcohol Sales and Arrests Last Year
While the success of this year's efforts to diminish the impact of State Patty's Day on Happy Valley are yet to be known, according to the "State Patty's Day After Action Report" prepared by the Borough of State College the numbers of arrests in 2012 decreased slightly compared to arrests in 2011. The 2012 plan included downtown establishments closing their doors to liquor sales as well as the early closing of the region's liquor stores. The number of downtown establishments closed or not selling alcohol has increased this year, but there has been no word regarding the liquor stores closing early. I'd like to think that having fewer establishments selling alcohol will make a difference, but I'm concerned that the parties will simply move to private residences. Another criminal defense attorney noted that at least at bars there are bartenders to cut someone off from drinking if they become too intoxicated, the ability of the person to purchases alcohol is obviously limited by the money available as drinks are expensive, and bouncers are present to control the crowds and contact the police when assault incidents arise. At least at the bar, the setting is somewhat more controlled in comparison to an apartment party.
The bottom line is that State Patty's Day will go on as planned by the students but hopefully without any serious injuries or incidents. I hope that the plans being implemented by the community do continue to reduce the volume of incidents on State Patty's Day. While I question the current plan, I also concede that people much smarter than myself have probably considered the plans being implemented and felt that they would be effective in reducing the volume of alcohol-related incidents, such as DUI, assaults, Underage Drinking, Furnishing Alcohol to Minors, and, of course, Public Drunkenness.