By Audrey Milam and Esther Shim
Jerrod leaves Magnolia’s at 2:20 a.m. Thursday night, ready to sober up on a heaping pile of hot food at a 24-hour restaurant. Few full service restaurants are still open downtown, but Jerrod has his sights set on Waffle House. The Washington Street Waffle House received an 87 on its last health inspection, not terrible but not great. “I don’t care,” Jerrod says, “Waffle House is AMAZING.”
“The Grill is disgusting. Steak ‘n Shake is way too far to drive on a couple [of drinks]. That’s just my prerogative,” Jerrod said, explaining his rationale.
After a night of fun and drinks, Jerrod said that he isn’t looking to drive anywhere, especially when Waffle House is only a short walk away. Plus, he enjoys the All-Star Breakfast deal that the joint serves.
Jerrod’s loyalty to his first choice restaurant is typical of downtown visitors. When it comes to picking a dive, cleanliness isn’t a factor. People just don’t care.
In a survey of 50 late-night drinkers, only two people changed their minds about their chosen eatery after learning the health score. Both decided not to go to Waffle House.
Most of the survey subjects commented on the quality and taste of the meals served or the quality of the service provided. Cleanliness didn’t play a large role in altering a subject’s choice of venue.
Multiple people declared that Waffle House had the best breakfast, the most convenient location, and the most food for a few bucks. In terms of pricing, some, such as UGA student Lewis Payne, disagreed.
“I prefer Steak ‘n Shake. Waffle House in Athens is disappointing. They all have bad service and cold food. I’ve never had a good experience at any of the three around campus.”
There are in fact nine Waffle Houses around Athens.
Steak ‘n Shake, a chain restaurant specializing in Steakburgers and milkshakes, was noted the second-most popular restaurant during the survey. The venue boasts half-priced shakes during happy hours from midnight to four in the morning, a prime time for drunken crowds to rush into the diner.
However, half-priced shakes and hot Steakburgers don’t mean that the restaurant is performing at high standards. The Steak ‘n Shake on West Broad Street actually failed a health inspection.
Unexpectedly, no one decided against Steak ‘n Shake, even after learning that it received a score of 71. The Clarke County Department of Public Health cited the restaurant for two critical violations: failure to properly wash hands, and failure to cool food properly.
Employees were seen handling clean dishes right after washing dirty dishes, something you might easily do in your home and never give a second thought. But it’s cross-contamination in the dish room enough to alarm health inspectors.
A representative for the West Broad Street Steak ‘n Shake declined to comment on the branch’s performance.
Steak ‘n Shake’s failure didn’t seem to sway its fans, though.
“I can’t believe Steak ‘n Shake is so dirty. I guess I’d still go, though. I love their fries,” said UGA student Sarah Greene.
The restaurant offers several flavored seasonings for customers to add to their fries. Greene said she constantly craves this dish and often orders “a ton of fries and a shake after a night out with the girls.”
After learning about some of Steak ‘n Shake’s health code violations, Greene shrugged and said, “they must be busy or something.”
Ricoh Black, another UGA student, agreed, “I’d still go to Steak ‘n Shake to get my Steakburger, parmesan fries and my mint Oreo shake. Can’t pass up such a good deal. Why would anyone want to pay 10 bucks for a burger when they can pay four bucks for one?” he said, referring to the higher prices at The Grill.
The long-time Athens diner, The Grill scored the best out of the round-the-clock downtown eateries. It’s score of 93 is exceptional, but not enough to change its perception as a grungy hole-in-the-wall.
“I was never a big fan of The Grill. It’s grody,” said UGA student Matt Thomas. He said the cleanliness was funny because “it’s always gross” when he goes. “I haven’t heard any good things, like ever.”
According Yelp, The Grill scored three and half stars out of five, and four stars on Urbanspoon.
Mike Bradshaw, owner of The Grill since 2009, laughed at the survey’s findings. “I worked my butt off for that [health inspection] score!” he said.
When it comes to dining after a night out and a few drinks, does the health score truly make a difference? In this college town, it’s not about the cleanliness of a diner, but about convenience, large servings, and money left in pockets.
By Joy Bratcher
On Jan. 7, citizens of downtown Athens saw a new pilot program take affect on the street of Prince Avenue. The six-month program focuses on the crosswalk located at Newton Street and Pope Street and places orange flags at each side of the crossing. The flags are to make pedestrians more visible as they cross the street.
“In a few months we are going to do an after study of the success of the flags,” Traffic Engineer Steve Decker said. We will be looking for increased compliance with motorist.”
Kelsey Butler is a student at the University of Georgia and lives near downtown Athens. She describes herself as someone who enjoys walking around downtown as much as she drives through it to go to her hometown. As she crosses Prince Street, she admits she feels silly waving the flags so drivers will supposedly “see her better.”
Butler said that she has seen more close calls in pedestrian accidents than she has cared for especially on the infamous avenue. Yet, she is not sure if the flags will be successful.
“As a pedestrian, I can see the benefit of the flags,” Butler said. “Yet, as a motorists, it is very distracting. I could see how more accidents could be caused by motorists staring at the flags without paying attention to the person carrying the flag.”
Every five years, the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group examines Athens roads to tally up the number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents due to being struck by motorists. In the most recent study released in 2012, one street stood out to researchers- Prince Avenue.
According to the report, while bike crashes are down 46% from the previous five year span complied between years 2003 and 2007, pedestrian crashes are up 160%.
Cities as far as Washington have seen success stories from the new program, but the idea of whether or not this statement is accurate is still being debated in larger cities across the country that carry a high number of pedestrians.
Salt Lake City has been using the flags since 2000. It’s city website states that due to the success of the program, in 2001 the city had to create an Adopt-a-Crosswalk program opening the doors for businesses and individuals to maintain crosswalk flag cites for little or no cost. As of 2013, more than 200 crosswalks were adopted.
Even with the program trying to help pedestrians, some see them as a joke to pull on one another. Looking in the flag pit, one may see a United States Flag, rebel flag, German flag, or Georgia Bulldog flag instead of the orange flags
According to an online article on the Athens Banner Herald website, the cost of replacing each flag costs the city $2. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-12/prince-avenue-pedestrian-flags-get-mixed-reviews>
Decker is quoted in the article saying, “the occasional loss of a flag would be a small price to pay if the program is effective in improving pedestrian safety.”
When using the flags, pedestrians are not to solely rely on carrying their flag. “It’s just an enhancement” for the crosswalks, and “not a cure-all” for pedestrian safety, Decker said in the article. <http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-01-06/pedestrian-crosswalk-flags-be-tried-prince-avenue>
In June, the city will examine Prince Avenue to see if statics have improved since the start of the project.
“I’m not sure what the results will be from this,” Butler said. “If it works to help make us safer, then it won’t matter any cost or problem it could cause. Even if it saves one life, it will be worth it.”
By: Patrick Adcock
The call came at 10:50 P.M. Firefighters rushed to get suited-up and piled on the truck as the siren began to blare. School alarms require a quick response, but these men train for years to get to a location as quickly as possible no matter who is in need.
They arrived to find students already lined up on the curb outside of the dorms by the bus stop. The flashing lights created briefly illuminated silhouettes of the crowd on the sides of the surrounding buildings. A group of firemen locate the smoke-filled common area that was the source of the alarm.
This is the reality of college towns and the firefighters that serve them. A change occurred in the last forty years in America – the reported number of fires requiring an emergency response fell from 3.3 million per year in the 1970s to 1.2 million in 2013 based on a report from the National Fire Protection Association. Yet there are now more working firefighters employed by local governments than ever before.
That change is reflected in Athens, where fewer fires are occurring in comparison to previous decades. Now, the fire department responds to around 3,000 calls in a calendar year. The population of Athens, however, continues to grow. Between 2010 and 2013, the population grew by 4%, and with urbanization that trend is expected to continue according to census data. This trend shows that more people living in Athens are causing fewer fires than previous generations.
University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson has an idea for what led to such a dramatic decline in fires.
“It’s the building codes,” said Williamson. “We have much better building codes today than we did years ago.”
Buildings must now conform to standardized construction practices such as using fireproof materials. Today’s citizens are also more aware of fire prevention methods, and firefighters themselves train hard to effectively put out conflagrations.
On the UGA Police Department’s website, data can be found about fires responded to on campus since 2009. A large proportion are accidental, such as students leaving food cooking in microwaves or letting clothes get too close to lit candles.
Arson is also a common cause of fire responses on the UGA campus. Students sometimes set papers or posters on walls alight intentionally. Alarm systems are toyed with and burned. If the fire department arrives to find that an alarm has been pulled intentionally, law enforcement is notified.
The reality is that today’s firefighters are responding to just as many false alarms as real fires, and unfortunately there is no way for them to tell which alarms are actual fires. However, more firefighters are working today than at any point in the past.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there are 350,000 firefighters on the payroll as of 2012 in America. In 1986, there were 240,000 paid firefighters.
There are more firefighters fighting fewer fires than previous generations.
The Athens-Clarke County Fire Company was first incorporated in 1850 and was located in a building that is now part of the Classic Center. Several years later, the first municipal fire department was formed, initially employing 15 firefighters.
According to the Athens-Clarke County website, there are now 190 personnel working for the fire department here spread across nine stations and one training facility. Each station has their own fire engine along with a handful of other support vehicles for the county.
Firefighters here serve many roles however, not just in responding to fires.
Kyle Hendrix, assistant chief of operations with the fire department, points out that a few of the fire department’s trucks carry ropes and rescue equipment, such as the Jaws of Life. Fire responders can deal with vehicle collisions, rescue situations and all manner of other emergencies.
Hendrix, however, does not see firefighters as primarily medical responders. In an interview with the Red and Black, Hendrix said, “The fire department historically has never been a medical services provider.”
Additionally, the fire department is responsible for putting on show and tells at the University and other places around town. Part of the reason the number of reported fires has declined is the fact that the average citizen today knows more about fire prevention than previously.
While there are more firefighters employed today than ever before and fewer fires being reported than ever before, the fire department stills serves an integral role in Athens life. With their other activities and responsibilities, firefighters are also working more than in previous years, and their efforts are essential to keeping fire rates low. However, the image of a firefighter rushing into a burning building is not the face of their everyday work anymore.
Remember that call that came at night from the East Campus dorms of UGA? Firefighters arrived in the common room kitchen to find that the cause of the smoke that set off the alarm – a batch of over-baked cookies forgotten in the oven by a student.
By Esther Shim
A hazardous and hilly road is about to be reconstructed for the sake of the Athens, Ga., community.
The S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road intersection is dangerous for commuters due to hilly conditions that prevent proper sight of other drivers around curves, according to the Transportation and Public Works committee.
The Mayor and Commission approved the award for the Whitehall Road and S. Milledge Avenue intersection reconstruction and hill reduction project proposal at the regular meeting on March 3, 2015.
The Whitehall Hill Reduction Improvements Project was approved as a subproject of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) 2011 Program’s Road and Bridge Improvements and Replacement Program (Project #26), according to the project history. The project idea began in November 2010 to create safer driving paths for the community.
The S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road intersection is a well-traveled and traffic heavy road. The Transportation and Public Works committee’s mission is to repair the vertical curve on Whitehall Road and improve vehicle sight distance to prevent dangerous driving. In addition to reducing the hill on the curve, the committee also plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection for efficient commuting and better traffic flow, according to the project package.
These improvements will be beneficial to college students as well as other community members who travel to Athens for work. The Mayor and Commission approved the Preliminary Construction Plan for the project on April 2, 2014, and the project was advertised for construction on December 18, 2014, according to the package.
The bid opening was scheduled for for January 22, 2015, with several companies such as Structural Resources, Inc., Pittman Construction Co., and E.R. Snell Contractor Inc., placing the lowest bids. At the Agenda Setting Meeting on February 17, 2015, committee members recommended that the Mayor and Commission award a contract of $561,700.95 for the Whitehall Road Hill Reduction Project to E.R. Snell Contractor, Inc.
The contract was the most cost efficient of the competing contractors, and the committee asked that the contract and award be approved at the March 3rd Mayor and Commission Regular Meeting.
One concern of the construction project was that the roads would have to be closed during renovations. This would cause a couple of months of detouring through Watkinsville and Oconee County.
The construction project will begin in April 2015 and the expected completion date is by September 2015, according to the Athens-Banner Herald. Around this time, there is an expected increase in traffic with a number of detour signs placed in the general vicinity of construction.
Traffic is expected to start as early as May, while schools are in session, in preparation of construction, according to the Athens-Banner Herald. The intersection of S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road is expected to be closed until late July.
Athen’s citizens can expect additional improvements such as bicycle lanes, wider roads, and a sidewalk as well, according to the project package.
For further information as well as snapshots of the intersection improvement project concepts, take a look at the following sites:
By Evelyn Andrews
“It was hard to get a ride with Uber when they first came to Athens, but now it’s easier and cheaper than a taxi normally,” said Sydney Browning, who has ridden with the service several times.
Affordability and the easiness of getting a ride with Uber is often cited as a reason people choose the service over traditional taxis, but Uber’s lack of government oversight and background checks has led to some people to question the safeness of using them.
“I did not know that Uber doesn’t have some requirements that taxi drivers have and I do feel a little more worried getting a ride with them now,” Browning, a student at the University of Georgia, said.
Uber, a ride-sharing service, has been expanding across the globe since 2012 and debuted in Athens in August 2014. Uber, a part of the sharing economy such as Airbnb and bike rental services, operates in 55 countries and over 200 cities as of December 2014.
Uber has not been immune to mishaps, including being banned from India after allegations of rape and surge pricing during the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia. Several taxi cab companies worldwide have sued Uber on the basis that they do not follow regulations. Athens Uber operations also have not been immune to these types of controversies, but no lawsuits have been filed.
“The real question should be is, ‘is it safe?’” said Ted Ledall, a dispatcher for United Taxi Cab in Athens, Georgia. “To be an Uber driver, there are no qualifications.”
Several taxi cab owners and drivers from Atlanta sued the ride-sharing service in September 2014, claiming Uber is operating a taxi service without a license. Many Athens taxi cab owners and drivers agree with their decision and are supporting them, Ledall said.
“We support them 110 percent,” he said.
But taxi companies in Athens are not planning their own lawsuit. Instead, they are relying on Mayor Nancy Denson.
“Everything is on the mayor’s table rights now,” Ledall said.
He said Mayor Denson should require all Uber drivers in Athens to adhere to the same regulation that taxi companies are required to follow. Athens ordinances require taxi cab drivers to receive a background check through the police department and to have a valid driver’s license with no points acquired in order to be issued a taxi license drivers are required to have.
“We check our drivers so much, there is no felonies, nothing in their background,” Ledall said.
However, one in five taxi drivers in Athens have accumulated a number of traffic or other violations within the last 10 years, according to The Red & Black.
No ordinances exist in Athens-Clarke County or state laws in Georgia that stipulate requirements for Uber, but city officials, according to The Red & Black, are reviewing ordinances that could be passed.
Hasan Ahmed, an Athens Uber driver, said the company does have stringent requirements for drivers. They do an internal background check, making sure the drivers have a valid license with a clean record.
“I don’t think you could make the argument that Uber is any less safe than taxis,” Ahmed said.
But some law makers argue that Uber still needs official government regulations, including Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) who is trying to pass legislation requiring Uber drivers to pass a government background check.
The government also requires taxi drivers to pass a drug test in order to obtain a license. Uber does not make drivers pass these tests, which Browning said is worrying.
Uber drivers are also required to have a car that is less than 10 years old, Ahmed said. Many people have said they feel safer riding with an Uber driver for that reason. Athens’ taxis are often in bad condition, older and poorly maintained, Browning said.
“I have ridden in a few taxis that do not even working gauges for speed and gas before,” she said.
Ledall deflected that argument by arguing that taxis still have more regulation than Uber. Additionally, Uber price gauges riders and charges them exorbitant prices for vomiting in the car, neither of which taxis do, Ledall said.
However, taxis in Athens do not have meters that measure the distant driven and assign a price for the riders. This makes the price taxis drivers tell riders seem arbitrary, Browning said.
No taxi drivers have harassed Ahmed, but he has been stopped by police several times, he said. However, he does not fault the officers, but rather the lack of awareness about the laws guiding Uber.
“Everything is so new and no one really knows what the rules are so sometimes the police just get confused,” Ahmed said.
According to an Athens-Clarke County police report, an Uber driver was stopped by a police officer on Jan. 9 and told to finish the ride and not take any more riders because Uber is not a licensed taxi.
Athens Uber operations has acquired several more drivers since beginning in the city in 2014 and will remain a competitive force against taxis, Ahmed said.
“I think everyone has noticed that they are many more Uber drivers,” Ahmed said.
When an incompliant man began pounding on the glass windows outside the Smoker’s Den on College Avenue last week, employees didn’t bother calling the authorities.
Instead, manager Tonya Thorne walked next door and the situation was handled in less than two minutes.
The Smoker’s Den shares walls with the downtown police substation, a building whose presence alone has brought security back to downtown.
By Kyle MacArthur Wingfield
A little sign is catching big attention.
Ryan Myers, owner of Amici Cafe, said for years his restaurant used a sandwich board to market deals to the public.
“We have an A-frame sign we’ve been using for three years to advertise daily specials,” Myers said. “It generates money for not only us but the city in tax dollars. Whatever we put on this sign, it sells. The sidewalks create business for everybody.”
The sign did not become an issue until recently, according to Myers. A code enforcement officer would “come around once a year and tell us not to do it,” Myers said, “and that’s all you’d hear from them. We’d put the sign out, the code enforcer would come by, we’d take it in for a week, then put it out again. It became a battle, and we kept getting warnings.”
The warnings are the result of a sign ordinance passed by the Athens-Clarke County Commission in 2005 due to safety concern and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, Sarah Anne Perry wrote in Flagpole. The ordinance came to fruition due to a visually impaired man who was tripping over signs in the sidewalk and had threatened to sue, according to Perry.
The ACC government established that it is “unlawful for any person to direct, order, or instigate placing of signs in the public right-of-way,” according to Section 7-4-9 of the ACC Code of Ordinances.
A business usually receives two code violation warnings before consequences escalate, according to Mike Spagna, Community Protection Administrator for Athens-Clarke County. If the violation does not improve after the initial warnings, said Spagna, business owners are then brought before a judge.
Myers’ restaurant continued receiving warnings until his business was issued a citation to appear in court. “I get that,” he said. “You can only write so many warnings.” But Myers is determined to seek change in the county’s sign ordinance.
“I feel petty, getting wound up about it because it’s such a silly thing,” Myers said. “But it is such a silly thing. It’s a very grey area […] the code needs to be revised and revisited.”
Local business owners side with Myers. A recent survey conducted by the Athens Downtown Development Authority asked businesses for their thoughts on sidewalk sandwich boards. The ADDA received responses from 16 local businesses saying sidewalk signs have a positive impact on business.
Myers said sidewalk signs add to the Athens experience. “A lot of times, we’d put something funny on it that would make people look at it,” Myers said. The signs “give character to downtown; some people are funny with them. It allows you to see something.”
Athens business owners told the ADDA survey that sandwich boards are “creative and tasteful” and “add a charm downtown area.” Even owners who do not advertise with signs felt strongly that other businesses should be allowed to use them, so long as they are “reasonably sized and do not block pedestrian traffic.”
Amici’s sign sat flush against the building, according to Myers. “In no way does anybody have to change their pathway to get around it,” he said. “What they do have to change their path for is the railing, our café area.”
So Myers looked for ways around the ordinance. “We asked if we could move the sign into the doorway,” he said, “but that was still in the way.” Myers also questioned the code enforcer about removing a table and placing the sandwich board inside the railing of Amici’s dining area. “But they said no,” he said. “There was no way around it.”
A walk down Clayton Street Wednesday afternoon revealed multiple businesses with similar signs. The sandwich boards were placed in doorways, walkways, and inside the railings of restaurants and shops.
Athens local Ross Thomas, a junior at the University of Georgia, walked past a portable sign entering an Athens venue Tuesday. Thomas became heated when informed of the city’s sign ordinances.
“I think the city should spend time fixing broken and uneven sidewalks instead of fining honest businesses,” Thomas said. “A sign is a more visible obstacle than uneven cracks and curbs and presents a less physical danger.”
Amici’s sandwich board is currently in storage. “Part of me wanted to keep putting it out and just take the fines,” Myers said, “but I’m not sure what would happen if the sign were out again when we’ve already been ordered to court.”
Myers is awaiting the verdict of the court before placing the sandwich board on the sidewalk again. “The battle is being fought,” Myers said. “I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. I’ve been pretty vocal about my thoughts on it.”
By Lacey Davis
Students and residents in Athens, GA have been on high alert since the eight reported street robberies in nine days this past December. Students have been increasingly concerned while walking home from downtown since the reporting of these crimes.
The crime rate in Athens appears to many as being higher recently than in the past. This increased sense of fear has likely stemmed from the highly publicized robberies that have occurred. Since the high crime rates in 2012, Athens law enforcement has made an effort to keep the public more aware of issues occurring in and around Athens.
There were 38 more robberies during the first four months in 2012 than in 2011, 75% of which were drug-related. Since the uptick in crime in 2012, 40 suspects were arrested and countless others have warrants out for their arrests. There has been an increase in detectives to catch these criminals still on the streets, according to OnlineAthens.com.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department and UGA Police Department have told students and residents of Athens how to keep themselves safe. They have also stepped up law enforcement in areas with a history of being more dangerous, such as downtown. These efforts have led to lower crime rates and a safer community in 2013.
During the nine-day period with eight robberies in December 2013, emails were sent out over large student listservs from clubs and other organizations, local newspapers wrote several articles that were published each day on the new robberies and ACCPD released statements of how students should be aware of their surroundings.
“I always knew I needed to be careful walking around downtown at night, but I thought it was in areas that would never affect me,” Nikki Grossman, a sophomore majoring in psychology said. “I definitely felt less safe after I heard people were being confronted and robbed in areas that some of my friends live and are in every day.”
Students, such as Mitch Wunderlich, a junior majoring in business, are taking safety into their own hands while walking around downtown at night.
“I always try to make sure my friends go home in groups or at least with one other person so if something goes wrong then they’ll have someone who will know what happened,” Wunderlich said. “But now, because of all the robberies last semester, I actually call my friends to make sure they’ve gotten back safely. [Our safety downtown] worries me when I think about it.”
Wunderlich is using one of the many tactics that law enforcement has encouraged students to use to stay safe downtown. The most important tips are to travel in groups, avoid poorly lit streets and not to show large sums of cash.
The ACCPD released a statement after a few of these robberies saying the areas on the outskirts of downtown are the most dangerous. This could be a result of drunken young people walking around at night being an easy target.
“It definitely does worry me that downtown is more dangerous, but I’m thankfully rarely alone and haven’t felt unsafe in any particular area,” Jessica Strauss, a junior living in apartments just outside the boundaries of downtown said. “I just try to be aware to keep myself safe and always have my phone in my hand in case something happens.”
According to the Archnews listserv sent to all faculty and students, the winter season has a higher potential for person and property crimes. Thankfully, now that the holidays are over and it is officially spring, the risk is lower than at the time of these crimes.
Although the risk is lower than in years past, future residents of these areas where crimes were committed are skeptical as to if they chose a dangerous place to live.
Ellen Cohen, a sophomore majoring in digital and broadcast journalism said, “The security makes me feel much safer, but of course I was a little freaked out after hearing a few people were robbed just outside of the complex I’m living in next year.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m more worried this year than I’ve been in years past. It’s honestly just more or being aware now,” Lauren Cadranel, a senior from Atlanta said. “If there are problems now then I’m sure they were there in the past. I’m just hearing more about them this year.”
To keep the police in Athens as efficient as possible, the UGAPD and ACCPD frequently work together when there is a criminal overlap. “We work with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department all the time and are always sharing information with each other,” UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson told OnlineAthens.com.
The increased effort of public awareness in 2013 and 2014 has produced lower crime rates than in 2012, however still higher than five years ago.
“That’s a little hard for me to believe that it’s lower this year than last, but definitely reassuring,” Cohen said with a grin. “But that definitely doesn’t make me want to walk home alone or stop taking any precautions that I’ve been taking.”
Music to the law enforcement officers’ ears. A cautious and aware public is certainly a safer public, which will lead to even lower crime rates in the future.
The average student turns 21 during their junior year of university, leaving a large majority of freshman, sophomores, and juniors under the legal US drinking age.
People ages 12 to 20 years drink 11% of total alcohol consumed in the United States even though it is illegal under the age of 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also said that more than 90% of this alcohol consumed by minors is in the form of binge drinks.
University of Georgia Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said in an interview with the Red & Black that he is noticing rising blood alcohol content levels in students being arrested.
“The alcohol levels that we’re seeing now are much greater and we are noticing that versus five, seven years ago, we’re having to involve EMS a little more than we used to,” Williamson told the Red & Black. “We’re seeing in the 0.30s more than we ever have.”
Downtown Athens is filled with endless venues and social opportunities, many of which involve alcohol. How do police enforce drinking laws when nearly half of the UGA student population is underage?
The Athens-Clarke County Police have many divisions within their department, according to their website. The ACCPD website said the Downtown Operations Unit is a part of the Uniform Division which “consists of the men and women who patrol Athens-Clarke County and meet the public on a regular basis.”
Lieutenant Gary Epps of the ACCPD Downtown Operations Unit said their purpose is to “provide the safest environment possible for what is considered the entertainment district for Athens-Clarke County,” especially when the majority of underage arrests are made in the downtown area, according to Lt. Epps.
“The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is fully aware of the amount of underage drinking that occurs throughout our community,” said Lt. Epps. “On any given night, the officers may be outnumbered 1000 to 1. We rely heavily on officer presence and strong enforcement of laws [and] ordinances to accomplish our order maintenance mandate.”
Although law enforcers may occasionally be outnumbered, their presence in the downtown area imposes a lasting impact on those drinking underage.
“While a strong enforcement stance may not prevent underage drinking, it certainly helps curb behaviors associated with the consumption of alcohol, which is most often the catalyst for other risky behaviors that lead to victimization,” Lt. Epps said. “The fear of being arrested seems to have a calming effect for some.”
Many underage drinkers agree with Lieutenant Epps. Underage Sophomore in Athens said the police presence in the downtown area impacts his behavior when drinking.
“No matter how much I drink, I see the cops on the corner and I sober up instantly,” Sophomore said. “I know that I can’t draw attention to myself for fear of being arrested.”
Lt. Epps said the “vast majority of underage arrests are made only after attention is drawn to the violator for other observed behavior.” He said violations range from open containers, urinating in public, and getting turned down from bars with a fake ID.
Bar A’s Manager agreed to an interview on the condition that he, his workers, and his bar remain unidentified. Manager said that underage drinkers are many times caught for offenses such as dress code violation before getting in trouble for being under 21.
“I myself was denied once going out to [a bar downtown] for having my hat on backwards,” Bar A’s Manager said. “I think things like that are what draw attention to a lot of these underage drinkers.”
Veteran Bartender at Bar A said she gauges potential underage drinkers through both their demeanor and conversation.
“One way I can tell who might be underage is by the way they act and talk about alcohol,” Bartender said. “I’ve denied people at the bar before if [they] look too drunk. I’ve told them ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable serving you.’ It’s a little awkward sometimes, but I’m just trying to help them.”
Former Doorman at Bar B said his responsibility was to monitor the venue’s entrance and allow people of age into the bar.
“Most of the time, I turned people away for expired ID’s,” Doorman said. “It was a common indication of kids trying to use fakes.”
Drinking manifests common behaviors in underage offenders, according to Lieutenant Epps. He said that conduct ranges from “fighting [or] boisterous behavior to overindulgence resulting in situations requiring immediate medical attention.”
Heavy intoxication “increases the chances of a person becoming a victim of a crime,” according to Lt. Epps. Youths who drink underage are more likely to experience fighting, physical and sexual assault, unintentional injuries, and abuse of other drugs, according to the CDC.
The names of people interviewed and bars visited have been changed with their best interest in mind.