U-Md. Enlarges Police Patrols to Bottle Up Excessive Partying, Protect Students

The University of Maryland has had a party school reputation for decades, but this fall the campus police more than doubled the number of officers on patrol each night as part of a back-to-school initiative.
By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's 10:30 on a Thursday night in College Park. The weather is warm, homework has yet to pile up and thousands of students are getting ready to drink.

Also out are 34 officers from the University of Maryland Department of Public Safety, caffeinated and ready for a long evening.

In the next four hours, they will bust more than a dozen parties of varying sizes, confiscating kegs and pouring out bottles of liquor. They will check parking garages for rocking cars, tell students not to stand in the street and call ambulances for the handful of intoxicated students they find passed out.

They will make only seven arrests.

"We all know what happens in P.G. County -- there are so many serious charges that most students get off easy" for disorderly conduct or underage drinking, said Lt. Ken Ecker, the midnight supervisor, who has worked at the university for nearly 15 years. "Where we can really hit them hard is administrative charges" at the university, which can lead to mandatory alcohol awareness classes or eviction from dorms.

The University of Maryland has had a party school reputation for decades, despite measurable improvements in its academics and research. Playboy recently ranked the campus No. 11 on its list of top 25 party schools.

This fall, the campus police more than doubled the number of officers on patrol each night as part of a back-to-school initiative that will wrap up Sept. 25. About a dozen officers patrol on most school nights, up from just a handful. On Thursday and Friday nights, more than 30 officers fan out.

On this Thursday night, Ecker drives through campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, easily picking out the freshmen, who travel in packs composed of nearly every person from their dorm floor.

In one such clump, everyone has a student ID around his or her neck, and a few students wear high school T-shirts. But the most obvious clue that they are freshmen? No red cups in hand, Ecker said. They haven't learned to bring their own cups to keggers.

"These are the kids who don't have fake IDs yet," Ecker said. "Watch them. They go in big circles, street to street, searching for the parties."

Ecker drives over to Route 1, parks and wanders toward the Thirsty Turtle, which has $3 SoCo and lime shots and a small line forming at the door. He stops to talk with the bouncers, reminding them to take a good look at IDs before letting students inside.

A group of women in short, bright-colored sundresses passes by, one of them stumbling and grabbing onto her girlfriends for support.


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