Police note ‘calmer’ State Patty’s Day weekend

Peg Hambrick was prepared Saturday for a knock on her door, but it never came.

Hambrick has seen the dangers of excessive drinking on State Patty’s Day. “I’ve had at 4 p.m. in the afternoon a young woman knocking on my door,” she said. “She couldn’t tell me where she was.”

But this year, Hambrick didn’t hear the same type of commotion she had come to expect downtown and near her home in the Highlands neighborhood on the student-created drinking holiday.

State College police reported that calls between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Sunday were down 20 percent from 2012. Arrests and citations were also down to 138 from 225 in 2012 and 234 in 2011.

Hambrick, who spent time downtown Saturday with her husband, was surprised those numbers weren’t even lower judging by what she saw of the tamed-down celebration.

State Patty’s Day is nothing new to Hambrick. During previous celebrations, she was among the groups of concerned residents who walked the streets, providing assistance to students who had too much to drink.

It was situations like these that community leaders and police hoped to curb as they pushed aggressively to cut down on excessive drinking over the weekend.

About three dozen bars agreed not to serve alcohol Saturday, picking up $5,000 each for their trouble from a partnership of Penn State students and university and local leaders who sought to create an “alcohol-free” zone downtown.

Fraternities agreed not to host parties. Realtors and property managers warned tenants they would monitor buildings, and police asked residents not to invite guests or throw loud parties.

“Police really don’t decide when things need to stop or diminish,” State College Lt. Chris Fishel said. “It’s when the community takes a stand that things happen. That was more effective than police enforcement alone would have been.”

Because the bars were closed, police were able to focus their attention on house and apartment parties, Fishel said.

Fears of unregulated drinking at apartments, where bartenders can’t cut off those who have had enough, were countered by vigilance from property owners and managers, Fishel said.

“It seemed like a calmer weekend,” he said. “During the dark hours it was significantly less active that years past.”

Though calls and arrests handled by State College police continued trending down, the number of DUI arrests made by the Centre County Alcohol Task Force increased this year.

The number of DUI arrests made by officers from Ferguson, Patton and Spring townships and Bellefonte and State College jumped to 10 during the weekend, up from seven in 2012. Members of the task force issued 16 traffic citations and 39 non-traffic citations, all of which were alcohol related. Police issued eight traffic citations and 43 non-traffic citations during State Patty’s weekend in 2012.

But task force Enforcement Coordinator Ryan Hendrick attributed the increase to having additional officers on the road, rather than an increase of people traveling to find open taverns or bars.

Fishel said the number of incidents initiated by police was up, and the number of people being taken to the hospital by police for alcohol treatment was down, both indicators that there was less activity during the weekend.

But Hambrick said community members will have to continue to work together if they want to ensure safety on State Patty’s Day weekend in 2014.

“We really have to stay the course,” Hambrick said.