Paramedics load a patient into an ambulance during a response to an alcohol poisoning call at Freeborn Hall in the Unit 1 dorms at the University of California, in Berkeley, on Sunday, Aug. 23. The call came in as a possible alcohol poisoning case involving a 19-year-old female in a bathroom in Freeborn Hall. Photo: David Yee
Paramedics load a patient into an ambulance during a response to an alcohol poisoning call at Freeborn Hall in the Unit 1 dorms at the University of California, in Berkeley, on Sunday, Aug. 23. The call came in as a possible alcohol poisoning case involving a 19-year-old female in a bathroom in Freeborn Hall. Photo: David Yee

An annual enforcement effort targeting drinking at UC Berkeley as the semester kicks off has netted a record number of arrests and citations related to alcohol use around campus, but the calls for medical service for heavily intoxicated students have been on the decline, authorities reported this week.

The Berkeley Police Department tallied 423 arrests and citations over the first two weekends of the school year, from Aug. 21-23 and Aug. 27-29, around campus and in the Southside neighborhood.

The operation was a collaboration between the Berkeley Police Department and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, which funds the effort through a grant. The annual effort dates back to 2004, and has netted 3,400 arrests and citations over that time related to possession of open containers in public, minors in possession of alcohol, furnishing alcohol to a minor, minors in possession of fake IDs and public intoxication.

The numbers have fluctuated over the years, from a low of 179 in 2006 to a high this year of 423, which was a 29% increase in overall arrests and citations over the prior year. This year was the first to show more than 400 arrests and citations.

Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman, said officers saw record numbers of minors in possession of alcohol (133 citations), as well as minors in possession of fake IDs (80 citations). Open container violations (180) were the second highest recorded since 2004.

White said the number of fake IDs confiscated was particularly notable. In many past years, several dozen of these IDs were confiscated. That number jumped to 44 in 2011, rose the following year to 78, dropped a bit the next two years, then hit its peak, at 80, this year.

“With many websites providing underage people with false ID’s, we have been experiencing a spike over the last several years,” according to a BPD statement. “These websites are located in foreign countries, thus investigation and prosecution is very difficult (if not impossible).”

Annual statistics since 2004 for the ABC-BPD alcohol enforcement operations at the beginning of the school year. The highest years are highlighted in gold. Source: BPD

Steve Rego, an officer with the Berkeley Police Department for 21 years, said the “significant spike” in fake IDs may have contributed to the increase in arrests and citations this year related to alcohol. The resources used for enforcement have been similar each year, he said, noting that the numbers for these violations tend to ebb and flow.

Rego, who manages the ABC grant for the department, also noted that the problem of fake IDs is not limited to Berkeley; agencies around the state have been confiscating these IDs in growing numbers.

He said the beginning of the school year tends to have a “tremendous amount of foot traffic, calls for service and medical calls,” which is why the operations take place at that time.

During the operations, police observed “long lines at bars and restaurants, large house parties, streakers, raucous revelers, parties on roof tops, shoulder tapping, minors buying or attempting to buy alcohol and heavy pedestrian foot traffic around fraternities, sororities and the outlying areas of the University.” Many of the arrests took place in these areas.

On a brighter note, the Berkeley Police Department noted that medical calls over the first two school-year weekends related to alcohol poisoning have been on the decline since 2012. That year, there were 53 medical calls for service, followed by 45 in 2013, 33 last year, and 28 in August 2015. That’s a 47% reduction since 2012, police said. The issue has posed problems for the city in the past, because all of its medical crews have at times been tied up responding to alcohol-related calls around campus, leaving fewer resources available for other incidents in Berkeley.

Emergency personnel respond to an alcohol poisoning call in the courtyard of the Unit 1 dorms at the University of California, in Berkeley, early Tuesday, Aug. 25. The call came in as a possible alcohol poisoning case involving a 20-year-old male who was vomiting. Photo: David Yee

In the past, Rego said, the high number of medical calls has been “very alarming” because the Berkeley Fire Department would need to call in help from other agencies to handle the demand. He said it’s possible various education efforts to inform students about the dangers of binge drinking may be working.

“The fact that we are seeing a downward trend is very positive,” he said. “There are less people who are intoxicated to the point where they have to go to the hospital, especially minors.”

There are several education programs in effect locally that were designed to help keep students safe while partying. UC Berkeley has created a program called “AlcoholEdu for College,” which is a requirement for all incoming students at Cal. The alcohol prevention program “uses science-based research to educate students about alcohol and its effects. Whether you drink or not, the course will help you make informed decisions about alcohol and better deal with drinking behavior that may occur around you.”

All incoming students must take the two-hour course by Oct. 15. The university also organizes non-alcoholic social events for students under 21 to try to provide alternatives for recreation, and has created the PartySafe@Cal website to teach students how to “be responsible, be good neighbors and party safe.”

In addition, the Berkeley Fire Department has created a program designed to teach students about the perils of drinking and drug use. The program, Every Bear Goes Home, offers “no holds barred” presentations to students about “the dangers of binge drinking, sexual assault, robbery, fire safety and BFD operations,” according to its organizer, Kristin Tucker.

ABC: “We don’t take these citations lightly”

John Carr, spokesman for the ABC, said fines for alcohol-related violations targeted in the Berkeley operation can range from $250 to $500.

Photo: Vaibhev Loomba

“We don’t take these citations lightly,” he said. “We want to get the message out that it’s illegal and it can be dangerous. We have lost a lot of young people following binge drinking accidents.”

Carr noted that, in fiscal year 2013-14, 130 young people under 21 were killed in California in alcohol-related vehicle crashes. Another 3,600 were injured.

“You do the enforcement at the front end of the year to try to get education out there that hopefully can prevent some injuries, and even fatalities,” he said. “Hopefully it will lead to a safer environment.”

Last year in Berkeley, there were two alcohol-related fatalities linked to the UC Berkeley campus. The first, 20-year-old Vaibhev Loomba, died from acute ethyl alcohol intoxication after a party at the Zeta Psi fraternity in November.

Photo: Apoorve Agarwal

The next month, 20-year-old Apoorve Agarwal, who was pursuing a double major in applied mathematics and economics at UC Berkeley, died after falling down a flight of stairs at his Southside Berkeley home. According to the coroner’s report, he was found to have “very high levels of ethyl alcohol in his system” when he lost his balance and fell down a flight of stairs, which caused the head trauma responsible for his death.

In response to those fatalities, as well as other issues, the CalGreeks community’s Interfraternity Council took several steps during the last school year to address the problem of binge drinking, which resulted in a reduction of alcohol incidents and medical transports for students, according to Harry Le Grande, UC vice chancellor of student affairs. The council ruled that no alcohol stronger than 20% would be allowed in the common areas of its fraternities, upped its monitoring of compliance with existing rules and imposed escalating fees for repeat violations.

This year, the city of Berkeley has been working on new rules to clamp down on drinking at fraternities and other group living situations. The issue is expected to come before council this fall.

BPD-ABC operation focused on first weekend of the semester and “Rush Week”

In August, the Berkeley Police Department put out two Nixle alerts related to alcohol on campus. The first, Aug. 20 — which was the first weekend of the semester — warned of the enforcement effort by ABC and BPD focused on alcohol-related violations. During that weekend, officers issued more than 200 citations for alcohol-related offenses.

In addition to that operation, the Berkeley Police Department has been working with officers from the University of California Police Department on weekend Southside Safety Patrols aimed to enforce laws related to both alcohol offenses and nuisance issues — such as large and unruly parties — affecting the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

The second alert and enforcement period, which started Aug. 27, focused on the campus “Rush Week” for sororities and fraternities, which often involves a wide range of social events.

The ABC grant period runs from July 1 through June 30, and helps pay for a range of operations, including the one at Cal on recent weekends and, later in the year, “decoy” operations focused on cracking down on alcohol sales to minors.

According to this week’s statement from the Berkeley Police Department, 131 officers took part in the enforcement operations in Berkeley so far this school year. Officers came from 11 different agencies and racked up 1,000 staff hours.

Officers who participated in the August operations came from South Lake Tahoe, Sonoma, Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton, Placer County, Rancho Cordova, Rohnert Park and the California Highway Patrol. BPD said members of ABC’s executive staff and chief counsel, and staff from the governor’s office were also involved.

“Without the staffing and assistance provided by ABC and the assisting agencies, this would have been a burdensome undertaking for our department,” BPD said in a prepared statement.

Visit PartySafe@Cal and Every Bear Goes Home to learn more about alcohol-related education efforts in Berkeley.

Berkeley neighbors take on ‘noisy and drunken parties’ (05.05.15)
UC Berkeley student ID’d as Southside fatality, died from head trauma (12.22.14)
Man, 20, found dead after party at Berkeley frat house (11.09.14)
Op-ed: Cal should take down beer and athletics billboard (11.03.14)
Student drinking at Cal taxes Berkeley paramedics (11.12.13)
Joint campus and city police patrol resumes on southside (08.18.11)
Berkeley’s Southside gets new joint police focus (08.25.10)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...