Police, counselors and students work together to promote safe drinking habits in Davis
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, four out of five college students drink alcohol and about half of the students who do are binge-drinkers.
Alcohol-related problems can lead to injury, sexual assault and abuse, academic struggles, mental illness, suicide attempts and even death. More than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-induced injuries annually.
At UC Davis, cops are not the only ones attempting to reduce these numbers and enforce safe drinking. The City of Davis police department, Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) as well as student volunteers are collaborating on an Party Ambassadors initiative to promote alcohol safety off campus.
“Student interns will go on ride-alongs with police and tweet out safety messages,” said Reann Davis, a health educator at SHCS. “[They will include] things like how to drink responsibly, get home safely or help a friend that’s been drinking.”
One of these Health Education and Promotion (HEP) interns is fourth-year biochemistry major Justin Hong. During the spring of 2014, Hong offered to be a designated driver for a house party. Upon returning to the party after dropping other students home safely, Hong learned that a party attendant had fallen off the roof, resulting in several serious injuries. Hong accompanied the student to the emergency room and since then, he is actively working to educate himself and his peers about the prevention of alcohol-related injuries.
“Last fall, I went on a patrol and rode with an officer for four hours while listening to the police radio,” Hong said. “One of our calls was about a house party. I saw how the officers and students interacted with each other, and in my opinion it was an awesome interaction because the officer presented their concerns and the students were responsive.”
According to Lieutenant Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department, student volunteers like Hong would be allowed to accompany police officers on “low-level” police calls through the Party Ambassadors program, which is being launched for the first time this year. Doroshov estimates that among all calls that the police department receives, roughly 80 percent are low-level noise complaints from neighbors.
Students with strong communication skills who are interested in the volunteer program can fill out an application on at the department’s website. Accepted students would undergo a 20-hour training and volunteer once a month on Friday or Saturday nights — the police department’s busiest hours.
“I believe that we’d see effects on many different levels,” Doroshov said. “It would help the police department because people will volunteer to help out with these party calls. It helps the community because it gets students involved in managing a problem that exists between their community and the surrounding ones. It’s a great development opportunity. We’re not this “other” organization, and we can make students part of our process.”
Students would not be allowed to accompany officers when they receive information on a call regarding an extremely large party or one with alcohol involved. However, if a call involves a situation that has escalated seriously, these students would be trained to identify red flags and notify officers immediately.
Aside from the Party Ambassadors’ Program, Hong’s own research led him to Red Watch Band, a comprehensive bystander intervention program for students who encounter a party or situation with an alcohol emergency. The program is already in place at other college campuses nationwide and is now undergoing implementation at UC Davis.
“After talking to different schools and programs about what programs work, I discovered that the strength of Red Watch Band really stood out to me,” Hong said. “There are no huge logistical issues. Sometimes, colleges hire different professionals to come to their campus. That costs a lot of money, and these external professionals can only be there for a period of time, so it isn’t sustainable. Red Watchband is, and it doesn’t take a lot of money, effort or time.”
Red Watch Band is largely a student-centric program, meaning that it operates on student involvement and participation. In fact, the program calls for “student facilitators” that are trained to recognize alcohol-related emergencies, alert professionals immediately and respond to these medical emergencies effectively. Students in training may also choose — and according to Hong, are strongly encouraged — to be CPR certified.
Following thorough research about Red Watch Band in college campuses like Chico State University and Stonybrook University in New York, Hong and Davis drafted a proposal to request funding, citing the merits of the program, its efficiency and its chances of success at Davis. This proposal was presented to their supervisor and was approved earlier this year.
“What is nice about Red Watch is that it’s abstinence-free,” Hong said. “That’s something I really like. There are no assumptions being made or messages being sent about not partying or not drinking. It’s judgment-free.”
However, Hong adds that as a national program, Red Watch Band is not campus-specific. It will require an evaluation after the first year and improvements to tailor the program to the needs of UC Davis students in particular. However, there are existing resources on campus that students can use if they find themselves or their peers struggling.
“We have an intervention specialist,” Davis said. “It’s a free resource for all UC Davis students struggling with alcohol, tobacco or drug abuse. You can come with a friend or alone, and you may even be someone who is just concerned or is unsure if you have a problem. It’s all confidential.”
Davis and her colleagues in HEP also manage the Safe Party website, which suggests safe transportation options, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) charts, an interactive resource to track an approximate BAC and a page that informs and encourages party-goers to be upstanders.
According to Davis, HEP coined the term “upstander” to mean an individual who is willing to step up and take action to help others or who stands up for their beliefs. She believes that it only takes one proactive and empowered upstander to make a difference in saving lives.
“Ultimately, as upstanders, we take a harm reduction role,” Davis said. “We don’t want to tell them what to do or what not to do. If they do choose to drink or party, that is their choice. Our department and the police department are just working the community’s best interest by keeping safety in mind. We just want students to know that these resources are available without we’re not trying to condemning or condoning their behavior.”