Duluth Police Department: Social host ordinance making a difference in Duluth

The Duluth City Council provided the police department with a very effective tool for combating neighborhood disturbances through the development of the social host ordinance.

By: Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, Budgeteer News

One of the more common complaints among homeowners around UMD revolves around loud parties. As we review our policing efforts, I recently asked Lieutenant Eric Rish, east area commander, to write how the social host ordinance is working in our neighborhoods.

Rish filed this report:

The social host ordinance within the city of Duluth went into effect in May 2008 and has become an effective tool for the police department in addressing underage consumption of alcohol in private residences and changing behaviors among, primarily, college students living off campus.

The city’s intention with the social host ordinance is to address the behavior of all residents of Duluth by making both homeowners and renters responsible for the behavior of guests at their residences, specifically underage drinking.

The ordinance states, in part: The City Council intends to discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, even if done within the confines of a private residence, and intends to hold persons criminally responsible who host events or gatherings where persons younger than 21 years of age possess or consume alcohol, regardless of whether the person hosting the event or gathering supplied the alcohol. Prohibiting underage consumption acts to protect underage persons, as well as the general public, from injuries related to alcohol consumption. A deterrent effect will be created by holding a person criminally responsible for hosting an event or gathering where underage possession or consumption occurs. (City of Duluth code 8-29.5.)

Since taking effect in May 2008, police officers have issued 175 citations for social host disturbances in Duluth neighborhoods.

Fines for violating the social host ordinance average $500, while underage drinking citations issued under other ordinance violations, such as disturbing the neighborhood, result in lower fines of $100.

The higher allowable fines levied, along with the ability to cite responsible persons even if they are not present at the time of the incident, result in a greater impact and improved neighborhoods.

The police department isn’t alone in its concern with behavioral incidents at and immediately after residential parties.

As the social host ordinance is enforced and these incidents are tracked, officers and neighbors see the impact they have on the quality of life in their neighborhood.

Community Police Officer Rob Hakala has been following up with neighborhood disturbances in the East Hillside area. Some who have received citations under the social host ordinance tell him that they have second thoughts about hosting another college party because of the large fines involved in underage drinking violations.

Additionally, the University of Minnesota Duluth has adopted a policy to monitor and address off-campus behavior of its students.

This extra scrutiny has modified some of the behaviors of enrolled students.

Hakala has also heard from neighbors who believe this ordinance and policy change has improved their neighborhoods. The average number of dispatched calls on Friday and Saturday nights for disturbing parties has been cut in half since the enforcement of the ordinance, from 10 to five per night.

The Duluth City Council provided the police department with a very effective tool for combating neighborhood disturbances through the development of the social host ordinance. But all Duluth residents are responsible for taking an active role in ensuring peaceful neighborhoods.

If you believe someone is violating this ordinance, call 911.

Without your call to the police, the incident may not be detected, and the offender may think his or her actions are acceptable.

Contact Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay at 730-5020 or gramsay@duluthmn.com.

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