UA student Rachael Reiss was co-hosting an end-of-the-semester celebration when a most unwelcome guest crashed the party: the Tucson Police Department.
The police, it seemed, were everywhere: in the yard, inside the house, even on the roof. With some 50 officers on the scene, squad cars lined the entire block and a nearby cross street.
Reiss, who rents the Mabel Street home where police busted more than five dozen underage drinkers on May 7, expected the cops would give party-goers under 21 a ticket for underage drinking, break up the party and tell everyone to find rides homes.
Instead, the cops started herding the group into the front room of the home so they could check their IDs and test their blood-alcohol level. Party-goers who registered any alcohol level were charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol (or MIP, a class-one misdemeanor). The kids were then cuffed, loaded into several "paddy wagons" and taken to the Pima County Jail.
TPD Lt. Michael Pryor of the midtown division says cops were on the prowl for a party because it was the last day of classes and the night before "dead day," a break before finals started on May 9. Traditionally a party night, it was also frequently a night of trouble: complaints from neighbors, noise violations, drunken students and drunken drivers.
"TPD decided to be pro-active," says Pryor, in order to send a message that underage drinking is against the law.
A team including TPD officers, the UA Police Department and TPD's Community Response Team dispersed that Wednesday night looking for a bash that met specific criteria--mostly, lots of minors drinking alcohol.
Around 11:15 p.m., they came upon the party on East Mabel north of the university. Officers surrounded the party house before the police knocked on the door, intending to book every underage person that was drinking at the party.
"Unfortunately, the police underestimated the amount of underage drinkers we would be faced with," says Pryor. The cops had expected between 20 and 30 kids, but when the door opened, the police found more than 100.
Officials at Pima County Jail were not prepared to book that many people, according to Pima County Sheriff's Department Bureau Chief Martha Cramer. On a normal day, Cramer estimates that TPD officers bring in an average of eight suspects on misdemeanors charges, but this evening, officials faced at least 74 bookings, according to TPD's count. All of them were photographed, fingerprinted, put in orange jumpsuits and locked into cells. Although extra personnel were brought in, the students were standing in line in the jail's parking lot for hours. Once processed, they spent a few more hours locked up, with up to dozen detainees in cells designed for two prisoners. Some did not leave the jail until 4 p.m. the next day.
Cramer regrets that the process was so lengthy and unpleasant and says none of the students presented a behavior problem.
TPD estimates the operation cost $8,000, including the $67 to book each person and TPD overtime costs. Pryor admits it was a pricey affair, but says once they started arrested people and putting them into the vans, there was no way to arrest some and leave the others.
Pryor says the process became more lengthy due to the number of fake IDs the students had.
Reiss knows underage drinking is against the law, but gripes that that the police overreacted. She claims to have had a half-glass of wine and blew a .01 on her breathalyzer test. She points out that once she turns 21--in less than two months--not only would she not have been arrested and jailed, but it would have been perfectly legal for her to drive. (Arizona's legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers is .08) Reiss says the police were polite and respectful, but suggests the community would have been better served had the police used the manpower and money to address other crimes.
She also points out the she was jailed for a .01 blood-alcohol level while two TPD officers were not jailed in recent incidents (one at work and one driving a car off duty) when their blood alcohol level was well over the .08 legal limit.
TPD is re-examining how best to address the problem of underage drinking and educate the students about its dangers, according to Pryor. It is also looking at "appropriate release versus booking into jail." TPD is examining differentiating levels of intoxication and whether an individual is a danger to self or others. They also want to address a growing problem of fake IDs.
Among the 28,278 undergraduates enrolled at the UA, 53.2 percent of them are under 21 years of age. It is a safe bet that a good percentage of them will drink alcohol at some point. It's unlikely the Tucson Police Department will be able to jail all of them.