Excessive drinking, an increase in house parties and a higher volume of people on Kutztown’s streets on drinking nights have raised concerns for the Kutztown Mayor, Chief of Police, University officials and state legislators.
Kutztown Mayor Sandy Green contacted Sen. Judy Schwank’s office and “expressed concerns about potential problems with students and other young people coming together in the borough and partying to excess with alcohol,” said Schwank. “This obviously presents a health and safety risk for students and problems for local officials and residents.”
“Here in Kutztown, our Chief, our officers and our residents have seen an increase in volume of students in our town this year as well as we have seen an increase in house parties,” said Green.
Remembering the death of KU sophomore Kyle Quinn who was killed five years ago while walking home on Main Street, her main concern is safety for students and community members.
“The illegal consumption of alcohol by those under the age of 21 and other drugs remains a continuing concern as well an increase in the consumption of liquor through pregaming has caused an increase in the intoxication levels of individuals,” said Robert Watrous, Assoc. Vice Provost and Dean of Students at KU.
“The other related concern is that the community of Kutztown has become a destination point for non community or university related individuals to party,” he said.
Watrous disagreed with Green regarding an increase in house parties.
“The Mayor of Kutztown and I may have different views on an increase in the number of house parties, there are clearly more people out on the streets of Kutztown at all hours,” said Watrous.
“The availability of food through restaurants that remain open and active after the bars have closed, the increase in other establishments remaining open in a BYOB setting (which was recently addressed by the Kutztown Borough Council) and other large residential parties that continue to serve underage participants will continue to attract an outside element to the community,” said Watrous.
Those attending the Oct. 5 meeting at KU to discuss their concerns included State Rep. Gary Day, Kutztown Borough and KU officials (including Borough and Campus Police), and members of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Pennsylvania State Police, PSP Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and the Berks County District Attorney’s Office.
Schwank explained that the intent of the meeting was to build on the collaborative working relationship the borough already has with the university by bringing in other state and local resources that could possibly help.
“With limited financial and police manpower resources, the Mayor wanted to be proactive in identifying resources that could help the borough prevent problems before they arise,” Schwank said.
Among the items of concern discussed were the products sold at the Kutztown Wines and Spirits Shoppe. Green noted that flavored vodka, like Gummie Bear and Cookie Dough flavored Pinnacle vodka, is a popular choice for pregaming.
According to the urban dictionary, pregaming is “getting drunk or generally intoxicated before a party or social event regardless if there will be alcohol or other substances available at said event.”
Green read a list of statistics for the Kutztown Wines and Spirits Shoppe. Year to date, they have sold $2.5 million worth of alcohol. The store has served 81,273 customers as of Oct. 11. In one day they have carded 241 people.
From an access to alcohol perspective, Watrous believes the availability of sweet flavored vodkas and other liquor products are readily available and are provided significant shelf space in the Wines and Spirits Shoppe.
“While these products are legal, our current concerns are similar to those of a couple of years ago regarding a product called FourLoco, which was an alcohol energy drink that contained a high concentration of alcohol and caffeine that was very sweetly flavored and caused considerable harm to many who consumed it,” he said.
The PA Liquor Control Board removed FourLoco and required the producers to reformulate it, said Watrous.
One question they reviewed was whether or not the Wines and Spirits Shoppe could control or limit how much of one product could be sold, such as the flavored vodka.
Kutztown Chief of Police Craig Summers said the Wines and Spirits Shoppe was not open to this idea.
Also they discussed if the operating hours could be changed at the Wines and Spirits Shoppe.
“The lines that they have are at night, Thursday, Friday, Saturday night from 7 p.m. to closing (at 9 p.m.),” said Summers who believes that closing the store a little earlier would “reduce some of those impulse sales.”
Green said that at this stage, nothing has been agreed upon regarding operation hours at the liquor store.
Among the other specific items discussed at the Oct. 5 meeting at KU were police manpower, interagency cooperation and joint details, education and outreach, and financial resources, said Schwank.
“The meeting resulted in a number of positive outcomes,” said Schwank.
Potential grant funding resources were identified to support education efforts and enforcement details, opportunities for future interagency joint police efforts were discussed, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board agreed to investigate ways it can assist in encouraging responsible use of alcoholic beverages, said Schwank. The specific details of some of these efforts, such as joint enforcement details, will be worked out between the appropriate local and state agencies, she said.
“As a result of this meeting, I am hopeful that the borough and university have more of the financial and manpower resources they need to prevent problems before they occur or deal with any problems that do arise,” said Schwank. “I also hope that students and young people get the message that alcohol must be used responsibly and that drinking to excess is a risk to their own personal health and safety as well as others.”
“Thanks to Senator Schwank, we were able to address our concerns about the availability of alcohol products that are attractive to younger individuals and may cause harm,” said Watrous. “It may be difficult to restrict product lines in the stores but it may be better to either relocate the store or change store hours. While there is not final decision I felt reassured that the PLCB, State Police, Liquor Control Enforcement and the District Attorney’s office were willing to help the Kutztown community address the issue.”
“I look forward to working with borough and university officials to keep students and area residents happy and safe,” said Schwank. “Kutztown Borough is a great town, which is enhanced by the presence of the University. We want to help keep it that way.”
Schwank noted that the illegal or irresponsible use of alcohol has serious legal repercussions that can impact an individual’s life for many years to come. Recently the State Senate passed SB 941, which increases the fines for public drunkenness and underage drinking from $300 to $500 for the first summary violation and from $500 to $1,000 for second and subsequent violations.
“These types of offenses give an individual a ‘record,’ which could impact their ability to secure employment in certain fields in the future,” said Schwank.
Watrous said that the University will continue to remain vigilant and develop programs to help students living in the local community to be smarter about their social activities.
“We will continue to partner with the local county and state agencies to address underage drinking, high risk consumption, and hold students accountable if they choose to violate the law,” said Watrous.
Also,Green will be going to the Pennsylvania Sociable City Leadership Summit in Harrisburg on Oct. 25. She hopes to learn ways to help improve the quality of life in our community.
“This is the first year in many years that the residents are seeing an increase of volume on our streets,” said Green. “Residents see a difference. I see a difference.”
Green said there are many residents that are upset about alcohol behaviors. When she walks KUBoK at night, she sees people vomiting and barely walking.
“Alcohol fuels a lot of this.”
Her main concern is safety for students, residents, the community and officers.
“We really want to see if we all can work together to find a solution to address these situations... I think it’s time we all get on the same page and start communicating.”