Two Geneseo students—junior Jack Eisenberg and senior Paul Michael—were arrested for Social Host Law violations on Oct. 31. According to a statement released by the Geneseo Police Department, undercover police Officer Dylan DiPasquale—accompanied by “underage youth[s]”––entered parties at 11 Orchard St. and 86 Court St. and were provided beer. These are the first arrests made under the Social Host Law. Kappa Sigma member senior John Otruba characterized the use of undercover officers as “fucked up in principle.”
“Do they think this is the cartel? It’s perplexing to me,” he said. “We need better communication with the town—they need to talk to us and we need to talk to them.”
Village of Geneseo Board of Trustees member Bob Wilcox—who was one of the main advocates for the Social Host Law—said that he thinks the use of undercover police officers is appropriate. “The use of undercover people has been going on for decades and I have no problem whatsoever with it,” he said. “We have bars that won’t let our police come in there.”
Village of Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian ’91 agreed with Wilcox, adding that he had been an undercover officer in the past. “I used to do it when I got hired. I went to school here and they put me in at the parties,” he said. “We’re more comfortable liability-wise with an officer. So it’s normal for us to do that.”
Wilcox was one of the main advocates for the bill when it was first passed and chaired the Geneseo Healthy Campus Community Coalition—which was instrumental in the bill’s passing. He emphasized that the law serves as a serious deterrent to underage drinking.
“The Social Host Law is a law which was designed to cut down on underage drinking and drugs without damaging the people for forever because it’s a violation,” he said. “[Violators would get charged with] an open container or something, you might get a $50 fine and kids walk out the door of the court room laughing.”
Otruba noted that while he agrees that there is a need to slow underage drinking, he believes the Social Host Law is the wrong way to go about it.
“I understand that there’s a very serious desire on the part of the town and the Village to curb underage drinking,” he said. “But these police actions over the past couple of weekends and the Social Host law itself, I think they constitute an abrogation of our right to privacy. It’s bigger than just our desire to hold a party; it’s about principle.”
Wilcox said that he thinks the law will “absolutely” slow underage drinking in the long-run. “I think it already has,” he said, adding that the college environment has changed since he was in school.
“I certainly did a lot of underage drinking as a college student and it’s just a reality, but nobody in my college ever died—we’ve had a couple of deaths and it’s gotten out of hand down at The Statesmen,” Wilcox said.
Otruba argued that Village Board members are out of touch with the needs of contemporary students. “One of the Village Trustees—Bob Wilcox—chaired [GHCC]. To be blunt, I wonder how realistic the people on that board were when they drew up the law,” he said. “They personally don’t have a relationship with the school … They don’t know the people that work in Greek affairs. I think they’re positing a solution to a problem that’s very complex and their solution is not comprehensive enough.”
According to Osganian, the police response is largely reflective of spikes in the number of ambulances responding to alcohol poisoning, particularly among underage students. He cited an email from the Geneseo Fire Department reporting 15 emergency medical service calls over Halloween weekend. “Our business is mostly reactionary,” he said. “If there’s more parties coming up this following weekend and we have more ambulance calls, then I guess we’re going to have to address that and go back out.”
Osganian added that he expects the court to be forgiving with sentencing, but emphasized the need to send a message.
“The court here has generally been very lenient with students,” he said. “If we could make the point that, ‘Hey, let’s be reasonable with the parties, be careful what we’re doing,’ that, I think, is goal.”
Eisenberg, Michael and a third student—who may qualify for Youthful Offender status as they are under the age of 19—were arrested for Unlawful Dealing with a Child. This is different from a Social Host Law violation—which both Michael and Eisenberg were also charged with. According to the New York State Penal Code, Unlawful Dealing with a Child involves a person giving or selling alcoholic beverages to anyone under 21. The law also includes similar language regarding controlled substances, marijuana and sexual activity. It is a class A misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of one year.
The Social Host Law reads, “No person having control of any residence shall allow an open house party to take place at said residence if such person knows or has reason to know that any alcoholic beverage or illegal drug is being unlawfully possessed, served to or consumed by a minor at said residence.” It continues to stipulate that, “Such person must take reasonable corrective action to ensure that the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs by any minor on such premises is prohibited.”
Alcohol & Other Drug Program Coordinator Sarah Covell said in a phone interview that the Social Host Law is not making criminals out of innocent students. “It’s not intended to create criminals out of anybody,” she said. “It’s not going to go on anybody’s permanent record. It’s not going to prevent anybody from getting into grad school, law school or med school. It’s not going to have a long-term effect.”
Wilcox agreed with Covell, calling Social Host Law violations “exactly the same thing [as a parking ticket].”
“It is neither a misdemeanor or a felony. It’s a violation,” he said. “I don’t, frankly, see any reason to mug shot somebody for a violation.”
Kappa Sigma member senior Matt Liriano emphasized his disappointment regarding details of the Social Host Law. “I shouldn’t be responsible for somebody else coming over super drunk to my house,” he said. “The problem with the Social Host Law is that you’re just going to accuse the people providing alcohol, but what if the people were already drinking before they showed up? How do you gauge that?”
“It’s frustrating that in a college town, the Village doesn’t want to have an honest discussion about underage drinking,” Otruba added. “If you can’t have an honest discussion about it, all you’re doing is further complicating it and making it more dangerous. You’re putting more kids at risk … as opposed to establishing practices and policies that have reasonable limits and are reasonable in general and not so Draconian.”
News editor Justine Talbot and managing editor Megan Tomaszewski contributed reporting to this article.