BOWLING GREEN - Murder, 0. Liquor law violations, 755.
In this college town, violent crime remained low last year. But the ongoing battle with underage drinking, open containers, and all the problems associated with alcohol consumption continued to rise.
Statistics released in the police division's 2000 annual report show that arrests for liquor law violations increased 11 per cent - from 683 in 1999 to 755 last year. Arrests for disorderly conduct jumped 41 per cent - from 321 in 1999 to 454 last year.
Offenses common to larger cities such as prostitution, rape, robbery, even car thefts, were rare or nonexistent.
Police Chief Tom Votava admits his 42 officers spend an incredible amount of time on alcohol-related incidents, but, he said, that's the good news.
“We can focus on these kinds of minor violations, these things that are disturbing the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods versus the murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, mayhem issues that are not an inconvenience or annoyance, but which make a city unsafe,” Chief Votava said. “We're very fortunate that this is a very safe community to live in.”
While the chief did not want to put all the blame for the high numbers of arrests for liquor violations and disorderly conduct on the students at Bowling Green State University, he said they are an undeniable factor in the equation.
“We have a disproportionate number of people under 21 versus other communities the same size so I think that may account for part of those statistics,” he said. “We have our own local youths that live in the community and 18,000 additional students. You combine them and it gives you some fairly healthy numbers of possibilities for violations.”
Bowling Green police have made it a priority to increase enforcement of underage possession of alcohol. Plain-clothes officers regularly visit the local bars on the lookout for illegal drug and underage alcohol use.
They don't hide that fact.
“For two reasons,” Chief Votava said. “It's the law, and it is the abuse of alcohol that causes the majority of disruption in our community.”
Intoxicated residents are frequently responsible for litter, trespassing, destruction of property, petty thefts, and public urination.
“It's that drunkenness and disorderly acts that severely impact some of the neighborhoods. That's the reason we concentrate on it,” Chief Votava said. “If these folks were not under the influence of alcohol, they would not commit those acts that they think nothing of after they've had too much to drink.”
Last fall, the city initiated a Citizens On Patrol program that paired residents with BGSU students trained to walk the streets between campus and the downtown bars in an attempt to deter and report problem behavior.
The volunteers carried two-way radios that allowed them to report incidents directly to police. They were on patrol from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during the fall, and the program is set to resume this spring.
Chief Votava said the city had a 14 per cent decrease in crime in that area of the city during the fall.
“Whether that's an anomaly or if we did make a significant difference, we'll have to see in the spring,” he said. “At first blush, it does seem as though it did have an impact in the neighborhood.”
Bowling Green's population is right around 30,000, which includes the 18,000 or so students at BGSU.