The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 26, 2012

Police: Alcohol abuse still an obvious problem downtown

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Heading into Minnesota State University's homecoming weekend, Mankato's Department of Public Safety wants students and other residents to know they are prepared.

A few officers have been working extra shifts that past few weekends, using the new police mobility vehicles to patrol downtown's entertainment district and nearby neighborhoods. Two other officers have also been assigned to work the downtown area as a regular beat.

What they are finding are large numbers of young people are drinking way too much, often showing up downtown late and past the level of intoxication where responsible bartenders should be serving them. That has resulted in police staff making nearly 30 trips during the past month to detoxifcation centers for people who haven't committed a crime, but are too drunk to care for themselves. Forty percent of those people sent to detox were college students.

That is a drain on resources because New Ulm is the closest detox center. It is often full, so police staff have had to travel to Willmar, Hastings and Albert Lea for detox services. Officers are too busy dealing with crimes, which are also often fueled by alcohol abuse, to be responsible for people who are simply too drunk to care for themselves.

That has led to a call from city officials to have  "stakeholders" step forward to deal with the problem, said Matt Westermayer, Department of Public Safety deputy director. He identified some of those stakeholders as MSU, other universities in the area, bars and liquor store owners, social services and the medical community.

"We don't have the staff; we don't have the resources," he said. "We can't do this by ourselves."