UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As the student-organized "State Patty’s Day" approaches this month, town-and-gown initiatives are taking form to weaken the destructive annual gathering centered on the over-consumption of alcohol.
Since 2007, the artificial holiday known as "State Patty’s Day" has led to an increase in alcohol overdoses, arrests, vandalism and litter, creating a generally inhospitable atmosphere in town. Attracting attention beyond the campus community, the event has been detrimental to the reputation of Penn State students, even though many of the day’s revelers travel from outside University Park.
Last year, staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center estimated that half of 336 emergency room admissions were related to State Patty’s Day. The average blood-alcohol content for patients was 0.282 percent -- a rate of 0.3 percent could lead to coma or even death.
Myriad strategies from Penn State and State College Borough officials mitigated some of the damage from last year’s event, and newer tactics are being deployed to hasten the decline of this year's State Patty’s Day, set for Feb. 23.
In 2012, the Interfraternity Council’s decision to ban gatherings on State Patty’s Day, combined with voluntary curtailed hours or all-day closures of some downtown bars, led to a decrease in criminal activity, according to police. From a 36-hour period during 2012’s State Patty’s Day, borough police fielded 399 calls for service, down from 480 calls the previous year. In 2012, borough police officers made 222 criminal arrests; 234 arrests were made in 2011. Penn State University Police made 67 arrests in 2012 – the same as 2011. Non-Penn State students accounted for 31 of those arrests in both years.
This year, efforts to quell State Patty’s Day have been boosted by recently approved increases in fines that may discourage reckless drinking. Signed by the governor and effective Dec. 24, 2012, in Pennsylvania, the fine for a first offense of both underage drinking and public drunkenness is $500 –- up from $300 -– and $1,000 for any subsequent offenses. According to the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance of Pennsylvania, this new law (Act 205) was instituted with the aim of reducing alcohol offenses and their impact.
Other efforts to minimize the potential harm to students from high-risk drinking and decrease the damage of State Patty’s Day 2013 include:
-- The University’s Interfraternity Council has pledged to again ban parties on Friday, Feb. 22, and all social functions on Saturday, Feb. 23. In a statement, the IFC said, “We are excited to work with the Borough of State College and the Penn State community to further eliminate the presence of this event at our University. The Interfraternity Council plans to engage in various community service initiatives that day in lieu of drinking to further better our community here at Penn State.” The Panhellenic Council has banned sorority functions as well, and both groups plan to monitor their membership to ensure the ban is followed. To read more about the efforts, see http://live.psu.edu/story/64200.
-- Many tavern owners have again committed to action such as closing on State Patty’s Day, reducing hours of operation and limiting drink specials. More specific information is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
-- Student leaders have launched multiple volunteer initiatives, including the State Day of Service, sponsored by the Council of LionHearts. For early volunteer opportunities, visit http://volunteer.psu.edu/. Council of LionHearts members will also be interacting with revelers, promoting safety and urging participation in State Patty’s Day alternatives on the day of the event.
-- Students living in University residence halls will be limited to one guest per room for the weekend, and there will be increased enforcement of rules.
-- State College Police are once again sending notice to local landlords and apartment complexes to seek their cooperation in tamping down the number of parties and gatherings that tenants may plan for that weekend. Additional police enforcement will be on the streets on both Friday and Saturday and will respond to complaints at private residences.
-- Prices in borough parking garages will be restructured so those parking long-term will pay rates higher than typical weekend fees and steps will be taken to ensure that parking is available for downtown visitors not associated with State Patty’s Day. Those who park in downtown State College garages also will be charged a special event parking rate of $1.75 per hour, after a vehicle is parked for more than three hours at the standard rate of $.75 per hour, for a maximum parking fee of $26 daily. State College neighborhoods will see increased enforcement against illegal parking, and policies regarding overnight parking, parking on lawns and all other parking regulations will be strictly enforce.
Parking is of concern on campus and in downtown, since regularly scheduled events, as well as a Bon Jovi concert and a number of athletic tournaments will be under way. All on-campus parking facilities will charge a special event rate fee per vehicle for those who do not have a current Penn State parking pass displayed. Digital signage placed around campus will direct drivers to lots and decks with available parking. Several lots on campus will be posted with "No Overnight Parking" signs.
-- A joint University/State College Borough letter will be sent to the owners of high-occupancy apartment complexes, urging that access be limited during State Patty’s Day weekend. Law enforcement officers will be offered to property managers who seek extra security.
-- State College Borough also will increase code enforcement efforts to discourage unruly gatherings beyond the downtown area.
-- Alternatives abound that weekend at University Park, including a performance by Bon Jovi at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 and the Lady Lion Pink Zone basketball game against the University of Michigan at 1 p.m. Feb. 24, both at the Bryce Jordan Center.
"This manufactured event that has taken off via social media has been a black eye for both the town and Penn State," said Tom King, borough chief of police. "It's costly, dangerous and totally without merit. Our hope is to make this weekend one in which those who come to engage in destructive, high-risk behavior will find the party is over."