Focus on safety, not consumption

First off, I’d like to welcome everyone back to B-town, and I hope you all had a great summer. This summer I went to an event at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and underage drinking was a primary concern of security there.  The issue of underage drinking is a universal one, so this article should be easy to relate to. SPAC is a great concert venue, attracting legions of fans from across the Northeast. But the alcohol crackdown during the Dave Matthews shows earlier this summer may have been enough to discourage fans from returning. From the ridiculously long delays caused by ill-staffed vehicle searches to the ban on alcohol in the park, higher parking fees and closure of some lots to concertgoers, the experience of spending an afternoon tailgating in the beautiful Saratoga Spa State Park lost its charm. Despite the crackdown, only 145 people were cited for underage drinking out of some 60,000 fans who were there over the course of both nights. Searching every car on the way in — that is, if the occupants looked like they might have alcohol — while allowing patrons to exit with no sobriety checkpoint sends the absurd message that the state doesn’t trust patrons to not bring alcohol into the park, yet believes that they will make the smart decision to have a designated driver, or leave sober. Even if authorities were able to confiscate every single can of beer on the way in — and it is incredibly clear they didn’t — fans who are of age would still drink in SPAC’s beer garden. Shouldn’t the concern be focused on public safety and not on limiting alcohol consumption hours before the show? There is a problem with underage drinking inside the park before concerts, but why waste money altogether? Why subject citizens to a different set of laws inside the park than outside? When police search vehicles as thoroughly as at our nation’s borders, people aren’t inclined to return. When a couple in there 40s are forced to dump their alcohol alongside high school students, they are not going to come back. Reverse the ban on alcohol. It’s a step in the wrong direction and encourages unsafe drinking, as it pushes it underground. “Let’s finish our alcohol quickly before the police come by” was one such comment I overheard while walking in the park before the show. Clearly, the “complete crackdown on alcohol” did not live up its name and, in the process, it just gave people a reason to not return. Many of us make the trek to SPAC every summer, or to other venues in the Northeast. Underage drinking is a problem at UVM and in the city of Burlington, where college students make up more than 25 percent of the population. This is not to suggest that the Burlington community should by any means condone underage drinking, but just acknowledge that it inevitably occurs. It is my hope that safety will be the primary concern of the Burlington police, citizens and students as everybody again converges on the Queen City this week.