Homecoming and underage booze

As students and alumni flood the area for homecoming, police plan increased presence

Published by Joe Wells, Date: October 8, 2021
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With the Slippery Rock area getting ready to host an increased volume of visitors for the university’s upcoming homecoming week, local law enforcement is preparing for more violations involving alcohol.

A look back at previous reporting in The Rocket and blotter reports found that since 2002, SRU Homecoming has resulted in 342 alcohol violations filed by university police. For this article, alcohol violations are defined as illegal possession, consumption and driving under the influence.

While the number of alcohol violations has risen and fallen from year to year, the last four years have only accounted for 6% of those homecoming violations. In comparison, the four-year period prior to 2017 accounted for nearly 22% of charges filed.

Throughout the same time period, reporting has covered the increased police presence on campus and in the surrounding community. The Slippery Rock area covers four law enforcement jurisdictions, Slippery Rock University Police (SRUPD), Slippery Rock Borough Police (SRPD), the Pennsylvania State Police Butler Barracks and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) based out of Punxsutawney.

This year, all of the agencies will be coordinating the entirety of homecoming weekend, with officers working out of a command center set up in the SRUPD police station, according to SRUPD Chief Kevin Sharkey.

Both Sharkey and his counterpart with SRPD, Terry Fedokovitz, said the biggest effort their agencies do is increase staffing, especially for bigger events like the parade and SRU football game. SRUPD will increase the number of officers on duty from that Thursday into Sunday morning.

The PLCB will be in the area to investigate any liquor license or other alcohol-related violations. Tailgaters for Saturday’s game between Rock Football and Indiana University of Pennsylvania are not permitted to sell alcohol. Doing so is a violation of the Rock Athletics tailgating policy and state law.

Probably the biggest increase in police presence over the years has been with the PSP who have repeatedly deployed their Tactical Mounted Unit. In the past, the horseback troopers have patrolled the off-campus housing areas around Slippery Rock Township.

The Rocket reached out to the PSP to see if the unit would be part of the state police patrol efforts but did not hear back prior to publication.

During 2017’s homecoming, one individual was arrested for taunting a police animal, a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. That charge was later dropped, and the man pled guilty to a summary offense of disorderly conduct.

Graduate student Zachary Rosenberger is of the legal drinking age and wasn’t worried about what the underage students got into but, wasn’t excited for the increased police presence.

“I don’t care if [underage students] drink, just so they don’t bother me,” Rosenberger said.

Another graduate student, Jianna Palladini, said police should know what to expect around homecoming.

The Rocket reached out to underage students to find out if they plan to drink and how they plan to stay safe if they do, but they declined to comment.

With the increase in drinking, Director of Student Health and Wellness Kris Benkeser doesn’t want students to worry about a possible law enforcement interaction if someone needs medical care.

Pennsylvania’s Safe Harbor law provides immunity to individuals who are underage and seek medical care either for themselves or another person. For a person seeking medical help for another, that individual must contact 911 or emergency services, provide their name and stay with the person needing care until help arrives and they no longer need to be.

If anyone is concerned about how much alcohol someone consumed, they should find a sober driver and call the nurse, Benkeser said. But, if someone is not conscious or breathing, call 911 immediately.

Benkeser said Student Health Services always prepares for big campus events and expects to see an increase in patients over the weekend. Still, with what she says is essentially two freshmen classes, with this year’s sophomore class finally back on campus, she is worried.

“[Homecoming] always fills me with dread because there are so many ways for it to go wrong,” Benkeser said.

Benkeser added, “at the risk of sounding like their mom,” students should party smart and stay with friends.

Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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