Drunken Debauchery and Downtown Athens: Pure Fun or Public Danger?

Downtown Athens and partying have gone hand-in-hand for some time now. The city’s nightlife is well known and draws in many visitors.


Proof of why this reputation exists has been on display this week. According to the Clarke County prison website, over 80 alcohol-related arrests occurred on St. Patrick’s Day and early Wednesday morning.


Yes, it can be fun to go downtown, have a few drinks and throw your worries away for a night. But what about the people who actually live there, the people who have to sleep while others party the night away? Furthermore, do these late-night revelers pose a threat to public safety?


According to police, those inebriated downtown visitors don’t pose too much of a threat. While arrests for underage drinking are common, downtown partiers are not a major problem for public safety.


“Drunk people being a little rowdy and walking around downtown, we can live with that as long as they are of age,” said Hilda Sorrow, public information assistant for the Athens-Clarke County police department. “Our number one priority is to curb drunk driving. Combining drunk drivers with drunk pedestrians who may jaywalk is a dangerous mix, so we always have plenty of patrol cars downtown.”


On nights where the partiers are likely to frequent the bars downtown, one can spot a heavier police presence.


“Our officers act as a deterrent to most behavior that would endanger public safety,” Sorrow said. “On busy nights we like to have anywhere from five to ten officers on bicycles patrolling downtown, not to mention patrol cars. Our officers downtown do a great job, considering that nothing too newsworthy or disruptive usually happens in such a potentially dangerous situation.”


In fact, according to Sorrow, in 2008 no serious injuries occurred to pedestrians downtown. The heightened police presence on weekends has helped to keep this number low, Sorrow said. According to the National Safety Council, pedestrian accidents are most likely to occur on Fridays and Saturdays


Furthermore, two civic groups are working to help keep downtown Athens safe for partiers and non-partiers alike. WatchDawgs is a student organization that offers free rides to partiers on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.


“Basically, if you are have been drinking and need a ride home from downtown, we will give you one,” said Ally Walls, public relations director for WatchDawgs. “We are not anti-drinking or anti-fun by any stretch. We just want to help make Athens safer.”


Walls said on any given night WatchDawgs may give about twenty different groups of people rides home.


Safe Campuses Now is an Athens based non-profit organization that educates college students about the dangers of partying and drinking and driving. As one heads to downtown Athens on Oconee Street, a large billboard on the left side of the road shows a casket and the words “Man, I’m going to be so trashed tonight, they’re going to have to carry me home.”


According to Safe Campuses Now student director Amanda Smith, the billboard is part of their Blitz Poster Campaign, in which the organization places posters warning against drunk driving on billboards and in places such as bar bathrooms.


“I really like the Blitz Campaign because say someone is drunk in a bathroom downtown and thinking about driving home, hopefully if they see one of our posters they may think twice about that,” said Smith


Those who actually live downtown don’t seem to be overly concerned with the partying that goes on around them. In fact, three residents, who live on downtown’s three main streets—Broad, Clayton, and Washington—claim that the rowdy nightlife was a positive factor in their decision to live downtown.


“I don’t have a problem with it. Everyone knows that downtown Athens is a place where nighttime usually means drunkenness, rowdiness, and noise,” said Wesley Hunt, a 33-year-old contractor who lives on Clayton Street, three stories above the bars below. “If you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful, neighborhood, downtown Athens is probably not the right place for you. In fact, drunk people can be pretty entertaining sometimes.”


“I think most people live here because of the festive atmosphere,” said Erin Smith. Smith, a 30-year-old waitress at the Transmetropolitan, lives above the nightclub Level on Broad Street. “Obviously, the noise can be a little annoying, but you know that going in when you decide to live here.”


Shane Lovely is a graduate student and lives downtown in the Georgia Tower off Washington Street. He also does not have a problem with the late-night partying and its accompanying noise. “It gives the area a little flavor, and I like it,” Shane said.


Local experts also have little problem with Athens’ reputation as a partier’s dream.


“In terms of trying to promote downtown Athens, the image of a party city can only help by bringing in visitors and helping the economy,” said Kathryn Lookofsky, director of the Downtown Athens Development Authority. “While we certainly do not renounce the image of downtown Athens as a fun place, we also like to try to emphasize downtown’s other qualities, such as its culture and shopping.”


Hopefully those late-night partiers don’t keep you awake at night, but for the most part they have a positive effect on the city.


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