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Blacksburg: A drinking town with a football problem

September 3, 2010

Ok, I’ll start off with two questions:

1. How many of my blog readers have seen this slogan floating around?

Blacksburg: A drinking town with a football problem!

2. What does this issue have to do with Private Investigation?

Regarding the first question, I have seen it from time to time… on bumperstickers and t-shirts. “Blacksburg, the special place” summed up in a one liner of simple genius.

To some, the town of Blacksburg may be “a special place.”

To me  ‘Blacksburg: A drinking town with a football problem.’ holds a lot more honesty.

“Now wait a second Bulldog, I happen to love college football and Tech is one of my favorite teams.  What gives?”

Fair enough.  Consider these 2005 statistics, released roughly two years ago, from the  (Virginia Tech) Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center:

——————————————————–

79.8% of students at Virginia Tech consumed alcohol,

58.4% of students having engaged in recent binge drinking.

 (In keeping with the standard, national definition, binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in one sitting.)

  75% of students in Greekletter organizations participated in binge drinking activity.

Finally, in relation to national averages, Virginia Tech students consumed more alcohol, and engaged more widely in binge drinking  practices, than peers at other schools.

——————————————————————–

Now, according to Virginia Tech’s website,  over 30,000 students attend Virginia Tech.  Who’s good with quick math?  Let’s see now… 58% of a student body approximately 30,000 in size.  Yes, I’m assuming the  2005 student body was about the same size as it is now.

Thats a lot of students…. thats an unbelievable amount of binge drinking for a town the size of Blacksburg.

This sort of leads us into the second item:

“What does that have to do with Private Investigation?”

Alcohol related accidents are very common in Blacksburg, especially at intersections.  Private investigators are often hired to investigate the causes of accidents, especially in the event of death or serious injury.  (IE: large civil damages). 

 Now, the Bulldog wants business, but not that way.  Not at the cost of some pedestrian getting killed, because another driver was too drunk to notice the light turned red, as he flies down Prices Fork Road.  No, there’s some business I don’t want.

I also used to be a security officer at one of the FEW townhouse developments in Blacksburg that has security. I think the decision followed after one too many fights broke out where someone was badly injured.  Perhaps it was the result of the monster truck ‘tug of war’ sporting events (using tow chains between the vehicles), which took place in the parking lot.  I’m not sure  exactly what the final straw was…  but I wouldn’t of believed someone telling me the types of things that go on at these drunken “students gone wild” parties if I hadn’t seen them first hand.

 As per the status quo down in Blacksburg, most apartment complexes don’t even  have security to patrol the premises.  Regardless of how out of hand the parties get, the  management companies simply don’t want to spend the money for security.  They  also are apparently more worried about loosing tenants then the parties. 

 While discussing my concerns with  a member of the New River Valley Apartment Council, he explained to me the general consensus of the organization: “If we clamp down on the parties, we’ll loose our renters.  The students rent off campus precisely so they CAN party.” 

 Well, what a responsible attitude.  Thank you for clearing up my misconceptions. 

I thought the primary reason to attend tech was to pursue an education… not to drink, play ‘beer pong,’ and go overboard at football games. My bad.

I’ve been told there was a huge party, followed by a brawl at an off-campus apartment complex on Saturday night (08/28/10).   Several people supposedly wound up headed to the hospital emergency room from the injuries.   Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurance in Blacksburg.  Not even close. 

The fight  must of been bad.   Blacksburg PD apparently made an appearance.  In their defense, the Blacksburg PD does what it can with the resources they have, but the student drinking situation in Blacksburg is completely out of control.  It’s my understanding that many nights, particularly at the beginning or end of a semester, local law enforcement gets swamped with calls. 

The end result: A situation where LE is forced to prioritize where to respond…  altercations require priority over basic noise complaints.   

The  town administration doesn’t want the image of “Blacksburg, the special place” tainted by these sorts of things leaking out… so generally speaking… the extent of the problem  don’t make it to the press. 

 The Virginia Tech  “Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center” was created in January of 1999, following a report on College Drinking by the Attorney Generals office.  Apparently student alcohol consumption was already somewhat of a concern prior to that date.

Following a student’s death from alcohol poisoning in 2004,  Virginia Tech found itself under serious political pressure to address the student drinking issue.  The CAAPC,  under the leadership of Dr. Steven Clarke, performed  statistical research and studies regarding Virginia Tech students’ alcohol consumption habits.  Through these efforts the CAAPC developed an “Overview of the Alcohol Use Behaviors of Virginia Tech Students” which ultimately wound up on the desk of President Charles Steger. 

  The resulting report is the source for the shocking statics quoted at the top of this blog entry.  Apparently President Steger was shocked as well.  After recieving the CAAPC report, he commissioned a campus wide Alcohol Abuse Prevention Taskforce. (I find the distinctions between this task force and the previously commissioned CAAPC somewhat vague, but I’m digressing.)  A copy of the report is available for download (in PDF format) from the Collegiate Times, the Virginia Tech student newspaper. See the link below:

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/pdf/alcoholTask.pdf

For the record,  I have a lot of respect for Dr. Clarke and the efforts of the CAAPC.  It’s a difficult job and likely requires a lot of finesse.  I’m sure that the owners of the Blacksburg restaurants and taverns offering alcoholic beverages for purchase are reluctant to support a crack-down on consumption.

From the housing sector angle:

1.  The NRVAC general sentiment (as explained to me) is that students rent apartments off campus to party.

2. Very standoff-ish body language of NRVAC members was observed  during an alcohol abuse awareness meeting

No, I can’t see the CAAPC winning many allies, or getting a lot of cooperation from Blacksburg’s housing providers.  An effective PI must know how to interpret unspoken messages.; Those messages weren’t friendly one evening, during a Town and Gown meeting, while Dr. Clarke was speaking on alcohol abuse awareness.   The higher ranking members of the NRVAC were present and more than one of them flashed  ‘dagger eyes’ in Dr. Clarkes direction.  My focus was on the audience and their reaction to Dr. Clarke’s message.   My conclusions at the time:  Tough room.  Unhappy with the message.

“Where are you going with this Bulldog?”

Patrols. Evidence.  Action.

 Setting up an anonymous “call in your complaint” tip line is not by itself, an effective way to address the problem.  Unless information provided by a concerned caller is investigated  during an alleged infraction, Virginia Tech’s division of student affairs is in a weak legal position.  Information at their disposal will be limited to who was cited for hosting the party, possibly who was intoxicated in public, etc.   Upper level administration however (namely President Steger, and the board of trustees) seem reluctant to explore more proactive approaches to the problem.  That leaves the university with only one option:  Reactive mode.  Damage control.

What exactly is the goal of the tip line?  Is it to establish patterns of behavior or curtail the problem?  If the goal is to enforce violations of the student code of conduct, than reported incidents require immediate investigation. Without obtaining additional evidence regarding a possible violation, Tech simply doesn’t have a strong enough case (depending on the astuteness of the offender).   Although I attended some college parties in my youth, it wasn’t my usual past time.  If  for whatever reason I wound up with a “judicial referral” that risked a major repercussion by the University (suspension, expulsion, etc.)   I personally would pursue legal advice. 

In an effort to curb student binge drinking, Virginia Tech recently announced the adoption of a new and controversial policy:  following an alcohol related infraction, the student’s legal guardians will  be contacted.  This may prove beneficial, but there are some obvious flaws with this approach. 

Let’s analyze the course of events leading up to an alcohol involved judical referral:

   First, someone needs to make a complaint.  I would argue that rarely happens prior to a situation getting out of control. (A classical reactive approach to problem solving.)  Following a complaint the police need to respond, suspect(s) identified, and citation(s) issued.    There’s a lot of leeway in there to begin with.

  I’d also like to know just “who” will do the complaining in the all too common apartment-complex, binge drinking scenario.  I previously described the prevalent atittude of many apartment managers:  students rent our properties precisely to party and drink.   Don’t expect many tipline calls from that direction.  

Assuming that a fair number of student tenants  in these complexes have similiar philosophies is not much of a stretch.   I acknowledge that some students don’t rent an apartment  primarily for the freedom to party, but I  anticipate an inherent reluctance on their part to take action against their peers.

Do you really expect ‘student tenant A’ to narc out ‘student tenant B’ because the party has gotten loud and people associated with it are vomiting in the parking lot?  Although  possibly occuring once in a while, an unwritten code of silence is  much more likely overall. 

Second, in the event of a judical referral, mommy and daddy will ultimately back junior.  They may chastise him strongly behind the scenes but if junior’s education (and their investment)  is threatened, prudent parents will seek out legal council.  

Ok Virginia Tech, PROVE that the party was at juniors apartment and not the place next door. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that my son is telling the truth that his neighbor, Johnny Jones was hosting the party.  For that matter how do you know there even was a party?  The police report and associated noise complaint?   A few red plastic cups on the lawn next morning?  That could of been kool-aid. Did you actually have someone investigate the complaint?  No?  No photographs of students urinating on the side of the building? What about the alleged monster truck, tug of war, that supposedly placed bystanders in  danger?

What is the likely outcome of a judical referral, given the premises of a good attorney and a lack of strong photographic evidence of misconduct?  The scenario strikes  me as a promising scene for the TV show Law and Order:  A defense attorney rising from his seat exclaims,  We’re done here.” He then escorts a non-remorseful client out the door. 

My conclusion:

If Virginia Tech wants to actually address the problem, then they need someone investigating and documenting incidents as they occur.  Any other approach is just a feel good, see we’re doing something measure.  I think that’s known as lip service.

Now then.. who here has heard of Virginia’s contributory negligence statutes?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contributory_negligence

http://valawyersweekly.com/blog/2008/09/01/social-guest-can-sue-apartment-complex/

What about the phrase “duty of reasonable care?”

   The law governing negligent security cases is largely derivative of general premises liability law.  The general statement of law is that one who possesses property (landlord/owner/lessee) owes a duty of care to the public (visitors, guests, invitees) to eliminate and protect them against accidental, negligent, and intentional acts of third parties

I’m not lawyer but I suspect  that a victim doesnt have to be maliciously attacked by a trespasser in order to sue an apartment complex.  The tug of war scenario, a drunk driver, and a multitude of other possibilities leave  property management companies very vunerable to civil damages.  In Blacksburg they seem either unconcerned or are simply holding their breath.

Consider the  judge’s ruling in the case referenced above:

“It is the heightened degree of foreseeability of future assaults based upon prior conduct that is the lynchpin of the question of liability.”

Changing the one word “assaults” to the phrase “alcohol related incidents” and you have the same end result.

Here’s some final food for thought:

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/9115/virginia-tech-student-injures-eight-while-driving-drunk

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/12281/tech-student-arrested-on-assault-and-battery-charges

http://www.collegiatetimes.com/databases/crime 

 (This last link in particular is very interesting.) Try it out and  filter out results to… say… over  the last year, with only the categories involving alcohol checked…. and that’s just on campus.

There’s more… alot more.  But hopefully between those links, the commentary, and the statistics I’ve made my point.

Bulldog.

5 Comments
  1. Frustrated in Blacksburg permalink

    Bulldog-

    Yes, the problem in Blacksburg with the booze and the beer hasn’t gotten any better since Tech’s new policy of “inform the parents.”
    Here’s a few links you might like to see:

    (copied from someones public facebook profile)
    http://img192.imageshack.us/f/jo1j.jpg/

    (copied from a website named: College Confidential)
    http://img4.imageshack.us/f/jo2v.jpg/

    You don’t think there is a connection between the party/fight in the College Confidential posting and the invitation to come party in the facebook posting do you?

    🙂

  2. Good catch.

    Actually, those posts are likely tied to the story a source had told me… and my resulting blog post.

    Bulldog.

  3. Casey permalink

    Cool Website Bulldog!

    You oughta do an expose on a favorite sport of many Tech students.

    Bar Golf.

    http://www.collegiatetimes.com/stories/8825/column-is-bar-golf-the-latest-craze

  4. Ahh yes, Tech students, Blacksburg, and Bar Golf….

    They go hand in hand

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=26801708040&v=info

  5. Interesting post! This case seems to call for a little investigative journalism, too, to expose the connection between student alcohol consumption and off-campus housing authorities’ responses to alcohol-related incidents. Have you considered coordinating investigations with local press?

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