Police chief’s letter offers perspective on underage drinking story

A letter by Public Safety Director Tom Kujawa appeared in the Feb. 27 edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It was submitted in response to a story that appeared last Saturday under the headline “UWGB has high rate of alcohol arrests” accompanied by a large front-page graphic with handcuffs and beer glass. Kujawa said the newspaper story was “generally fair” but the graphic was misleading — his unit’s work with students involves warnings, citations and referrals to the Dean of Students Office for education and counseling, but almost never handcuffs. He said UW-Green Bay isn’t regarded as a “party school” but he acknowledged his officers make their fair share of underage-drinking interventions. He attributed some of it to the state’s heritage and culture, adding “I also think our numbers stand out because we are comprehensive in our data reporting, and we are consistent: Repeat the behavior and you’ll be cited.” (Although Kujawa’s letter did not mention it, only 15 percent of offenders receive a second citation.) The news story in question was based on a website that looked at national numbers for alcohol citations/arrests per 1,000 students. (It did not include schools of fewer than 5,000 students.) Ten of the 13 UW System universities were among the website’s “top 50.” See Kujawa’s letter as posted on the P-G website, alongside the graphic in question.

Text of letter
The following appeared in the Thursday (Feb. 27) print edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

GREEN BAY — Saturday’s front-page story on underage drinking at UW System schools was generally fair, but the handcuffs-and-beer-cup graphic was a misleading way to depict our work with students.

Officers rarely take anyone into custody in responding to reports of underage drinking. At UW-Green Bay, first offenses usually result in a warning and a referral to the dean of students office for alcohol-awareness education, and counseling if needed. Repeat offenses bring citations and more intense education — none of which involves handcuffs.

Wisconsin universities are near the top of the list in alcohol violations per capita. Our state’s heritage and culture are certainly factors. I also think our numbers stand out because we are comprehensive in our data reporting, and we are consistent: Repeat the behavior and you’ll be cited.

UW-Green Bay has a safe campus, a great learning environment and the best students in the UW System. While generally not thought of as a “party school,” we face the same issues as colleges and high schools across Wisconsin. Our approach isn’t heavy-handed. We respond to behavior-related complaints and strike a good balance in intervening when we have to, while working with our campus partners on setting students on a better path.

Tomas J. Kujawa
Kujawa is chief of police for UWGB

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