Social Host arrests ineffective in enforcing student safety

The Geneseo Police Department recently made its first arrests in conjunction with violations of the Village of Geneseo’s newly minted social host law. While it is important to remember that laws are in place for a reason, I would question the wisdom of a law that seeks to penalize students in the name of keeping others safe, but in actuality only succeeds in the former—all the while demonstrably failing in the latter. The social host law holds anyone with the “actual or apparent authority and ability to regulate, direct or dominate private premises” responsible for underage consumption of drugs or alcohol that may have taken place on said premises.

In an interview with the Genesee Sun, Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian ‘91 noted that the closure of several bars over the past year has resulted in house parties and ambulance calls growing much larger. The social host law, however, does not provide for any sort of mechanism to address the issue of public safety.

The social host law reflects the Village’s distrust of students to act responsibly to ensure one another’s safety. One might point to the aforementioned rise in emergency response calls as positive proof that students are unqualified to protect safety, but such reasoning rests upon tenuous logic.

The fact that emergency calls are being made is, by itself, insufficient to prove that there is a safety crisis arising from house parties. The police chief did not cite any rise from previous semesters in deaths, injuries, accidents or hospitalizations resulting from drug or alcohol-related complications.

The calls may have been precautionary measures or made by resident assistants, who are trained to place emergency calls if they so much as perceive a student to be in need of medical assistance. Even if out-of-control house parties are the most damning threat to student public safety, the social host law is impotent in curbing parties compared to existing state law that covers similar ground. The $250 fine—which Osganian indicated was the most likely outcome for social host violations in an April 3, 2015 Lamron article—falls drastically short of the penalties resulting from a class A misdemeanor, which the first two social host violations were charged with.

Students, police and the Village can find common ground in hoping to increase public safety at house parties. To that end, students should utilize robust risk management protocols at parties to keep attendees safe. By sending undercover officers into parties to enforce the Village law, however, the police are essentially splintering student risk management efforts between keeping attendees safe and making sure that there are no undercover cops present—cops who can hand out a social host violation that could result in criminal charges.

If public safety were the true catalyst for this law, the conversation would focus on what students can do to make parties safer. Rather, the law seems to be a symbolic condemnation of student house parties by the Village, a way to raise revenue or, most likely, both. Framing the social host law as a legitimate method to increase public safety is simply untenable.

Geneseo Police and all that the rest of our local emergency response units do is important and valuable work in protecting students. Members of the Geneseo community should not stand behind a plainly symbolic, revenue-boosting law while public safety falls by the wayside.    Frankly, a Village law that leads to Geneseo students facing criminal charges reflects a true lack of concern for student welfare and should be strongly opposed.