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Arts Fest Alcohol-Related Emergencies Exceed State Patty's Day Figures

by on July 15, 2014 4:31 PM

Is it more about the fest than the art?

The number of alcohol-related incidents seen at the local emergency room over Arts Fest weekend exceeded the number seen during State Patty's Day weekend, a college student invented event that promotes binge drinking.

According to figures obtained by StateCollege.com, the Mount Nittany Medical Center emergency room saw 49 alcohol-related patients between Friday and Sunday, which was the 48th annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

The 49 alcohol-related Arts Fest emergencies exceeds the 35 alcohol-related patients the emergency room saw between Feb. 22 and Feb. 24, State Patty's Day weekend, which Penn State students created in 2007 as an alternative drinking celebration after learning St. Patrick's Day fell during spring break.

Additionally, the emergency room saw younger patients with alcohol-related issues during the Arts Fest – an average age of 20.3 – compared to State Patty's Day, where the average patient age was 23.8.

Furthermore, the blood alcohol content was higher among Arts Fest patients – 0.266 percent – compared to State Patty's Day patients at 0.248 percent.

Also this year, the Arts Fest saw an increase in police calls for service, jumping from 171 calls in 2013 to 235 calls this year. Many incidents were alcohol-related, with police citing twice as many minors for alcohol violations --15 citations in 2013 and 30 this year. The number of people needing medical assistance for alcohol issues during a police call also more than doubled, jumping from 12 in 2013 to 25 this year.

Borough officials and university administrators, including Penn State Student Affairs Vice President Damon Sims, say a comparison of the alcohol-related emergencies indicates State Patty's Day is no longer a massive nuisance event.

"There's no surprise that alcohol, including the misuse of it, accompanies all these activities. I'm not sure why that must be, but it seems it is," Sims says. "The difference between State Patty's Day and Arts Fest or a football game is that the former has no redeeming value. Its purpose has been nothing more than to encourage excessive and dangerous drinking."

The State Patty's Day Task Force, consisting of borough and university representatives, has made a concerted effort to diminish crime and alcohol-related issues. This year, efforts included a zero-tolerance police approach and the university paying bars roughly $375,000 to not serve alcohol.

"Obviously, the borough and the university, including student leaders, mounted a substantial effort to minimize the harms of State Patty's Day and bring that event to an end, if we could," Sims says. "We believe we succeeded."

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine, who was traveling Tuesday, said in an e-mail the figures are not surprising as the State Patty's Day Task Force has been successful at tackling the event's crime and alcohol-related issues.

"Given the work of the Task Force over the past several years, State Patty's Day has mostly been minimized," Fountaine says.

State Patty's Day crime and alcohol-related emergencies have steadily declined over the years. This year, overall, crime dropped nearly 47 percent with 135 criminal incidents reported this year compared to 254 incidents in 2013. This year's criminal activity is also 63 percent lower compared to 2011, the year the event saw the highest level of related crime – 367 incidents.

Arrests also declined by 58 percent with 102 arrests this year compared to 244 in 2013. This year's arrest figure is also 75 percent lower than 2011.

Alcohol-related illnesses declined this year compared to State Patty's Day weekend in 2013 when the emergency room saw 49 patients for alcohol related events. The average alcohol-level was .283 percent. The average patient age was 20.5. Of the 49 patients, 22 were Penn State students.

In June, Penn State and Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts confirmed Tuesday revealed there are preliminary plans to replace State Patty's Day with "Thaw," a festival featuring music, film and comedy throughout downtown and on Penn State's campus from Feb. 27 to March 1.

"The failure to fill that date with something constructive promises only a return to the destruction of State Patty's Day," says Sims. "A vibrant college town deserves festivals and events, including sporting events, even if they're accompanied by some element of bad behavior. We can't avoid it altogether and still have an appealing social and community environment. We must instead prepare for it and respond to it and hold accountable those who violate our behavioral expectations."

State College Police Chief Thomas Kind could not be reached for comment.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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