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2008 Winter Issue 8 (February 29, 2008)

Strong Northfield police presence at recent Chiefs game

February 29, 2008
By Beth Budnick

Carleton’s hockey games have come to represent a classic case of town-gown relations,this time, with a breathalyzer added into the mix.

The hockey game on February 15 crystallizes these interactions and the implications of tensions between students and the police force in Northfield. At the game, eight Carleton students were cited for underage drinking at the Northfield Ice Arena, the home venue of Carleton’s ice hockey team.

Northfield Police Captain Rodger Schroeder explained: “Our role is to prevent a breach of the peace, in this case by using an Alka-Sensor [breathalyzer]. It is highly within our right to do that.”

A sophomore, who received a citation that night, described the scene, “I know some people were sitting in the stands and the police removed them, and the police also breathalyzed people they saw with bottles.”

Captain Schroeder confirmed this. “Because students are underage, holding a beer warrants breathalyzer testing,” he said. These clues are necessary because “we can’t physically breathalyze everyone.”

Yet one fan in attendance remarked, “They [were breathalyzing] anyone who looked like they’d had a few drinks.”

Some students said this perception was skewed. One junior who received a citation said: “I was there in the beginning of the game, and the crowd of spectators at that time was much smaller and quieter than I think is typical of hockey games. Our group was cheering in a respectful manner, just hanging out watching the game.”

However, this student admitted that she had been drinking at the game, “I assume they saw that I was holding a beer,” she said. But, she added, the police reaction was exceedingly strong: “It took three or four of them to escort me to the lobby. At this point in the night, I hadn't even had a whole beer, so I was not at all belligerent or resistant.”

In the lobby, two of the police officers confiscated the student’s beer, questioned her and wrote up a ticket. The student was breathalyzed and recorded at “about a 0.03.” The officer gave the student a ticket and told her to leave the game.

According to other spectators at the game, ticketing and removals such as this student’s created a “subdued crowd,” and significantly altered the energy of the fans in attendance.

“People were discouraged to cheer loudly, or do anything even a little crazy, even people that weren’t drinking,” this student continued. “The environment was more controlled, but in a bad way.”

Yet, Captain Schroeder maintained that the department “can’t treat college students any differently than anyone else. Everyone is subject to the same rules.”

Students generally agreed with him. Even those that received citations said the police were “definitely within their right.” One student added, “As much as I was disappointed with the situation [of getting a citation], I can't be too upset about it because I was breaking the law by drinking any amount of alcohol. The town and the police have the right to do what they think is best and necessary for the safety of the town.”

However, almost all students agreed that the town has become “overzealous” in their treatment of students at the hockey games.

“I think the police presence in the past was fine. They were there to ensure there was safety at the game,” said a sophomore who received a citation. But, he continued, “I think that this time there was way too much vigilantism with the police. At most sporting events, especially college sporting events, the police will come into the stands due to major disturbances or highly intoxicated individuals.” But at this game, the student contended, the officers took matters too far and acted without these “major disturbances.”

One of the other students who received a citation agreed: “Although in my personal situation, I did break the law, and by ticketing me [the police] were just doing their jobs, I feel as though I was posing a very minor threat to society and that they might have been making better use of their time elsewhere.”

Moreover, students and Captain Schroeder agreed that, had the event been on campus, things would have turned out very differently. “Because the rink is on public property, we can go and enforce the laws,” said Schoreder. “We don’t have the right to do that on private property, unless we’re called in due to a breach of the peace.”

One of the written-up students added: “If we had an on-campus rink, the police would not have been there, and security could have managed the game. People who disrupted the game could have been thrown out as opposed to being issued $177 dollar citations.”

The differed policies of on-campus versus off-campus sporting events could very well change the dynamic of observers and fans at the respective events. “People shouldn’t be scared to go to a sporting event if they’ve only had a few drinks,” said a student who was in attendance during the Feb. 15 game. Some students asked the question: “Do players lose out on crowd energy when police heavily control a game?”

The question may remain unsolvable. For the more immediate future, one of the written-up students suggested that the school warn students if there is knowledge of likely increased police activity. “I think the school really made a faux pas in this circumstance,” said the student. “A heads-up could have gone a long way… the school knows that students go to the hockey games inebriated.”

The student continued, “It's not in the school's interest that a dozen students get

minors at a school event. Perhaps in the future, there will be better communication in order for students to make better decisions and not do something that could jeopardize their future.”

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