Cedar Rapids, Iowa News, Sports, and Weather
IOWA CITY, Iowa - At the start of the second quarter in the Iowa Hawkeye game against Central Michigan on Sept. 22, three people were behind bars in Kinnick Stadium's holding cell.
All three had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication, but all three were hoping to avoid a trip to the Johnson County Jail.
"Can I have my phone back?" an 18-year-old woman pleaded with her jailer while peering through the bars of her holding cell, desperate to find a sober friend to pick her up.
The jailer gave her the phone and, after several tries, she reached someone willing to take responsibility for her meaning her friend had to leave the game immediately and drive her home. The woman had to appear in court the next morning, just like she would have if she had been jailed.
But like many other accused game time offenders of late she never was formally booked, saving the county money and bed space at the jail.
"It's had a major impact," said Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek.
University of Iowa police, as part of the school's "Think Before You Drink" campaign that began in 2010, has changed its game day arrest policy to let low-risk arrestees go home with sober friends instead of the jail.
Two years since making that change, Pulkrabek said the benefits are obvious.
"We are seeing far fewer people in the jail from the stadium than we used to," he said.
In the 2006 season, for example, UI police took a total of 146 people arrested at or near the game to jail. That averaged out to 21 people per game, although one game that season the Ohio State game saw 56 game-related bookings.
The number of jailed game day revelers hovered around 100 in 2007 and 2008 and rose to 127 in 2009 the year before the UI kicked off its "Think Before You Drink" campaign aimed at cracking down on unsafe and illegal tailgating.
In 2010, the number of people UI officers took to jail from the game dropped to 58 for the season. The numbers stayed low last year, with a total of 64 game-related bookings.
UI officers decided in 2010 to start giving arrestees a chance to go home with sober friends before taking them to jail because they were planning to make more contacts as part of the drinking crackdown and didn't want to over-crowd the jail, said David Visin, associate director of the UI Department of Public Safety.
"If we were going to be making more arrests, we would be filling the jail, which was never our intention," Visin said.
Now, most people who are arrested during game day operations are taken to a holding cell in Kinnick Stadium, where they have about two hours to "phone a friend" for a sober ride home.
If a friend shows up, he or she must prove sobriety by providing a breath sample. If no one comes or if accused offenders give officers another reason to book them like being belligerent or breaking a holding cell rule they go to jail.
More serious offenses and combative suspects still are immediately booked, Visin said.
"And this is only done on game days, it's not done at any other time," he said. "The goal is to relieve crowding at the jail."
Before the change, Kinnick's holding cell was used simply as a place to keep people who were arrested until a van could transport them to the jail.
"But these are mostly people who drank too much," Visin said. "There is no point in putting non-criminals in jail just for a safety issue."
Rules that suspects must follow while awaiting a sober ride in the holding cell include no smoking, eating or disruptive behavior and no sleeping on the benches.
"You may make a phone call when you arrive," the list of rules reads.
Visin said the new system seems to "work out very well." Although, he said, some games are more successful than others.
During this season's Iowa State game, for example, 15 people were booked into the jail while just three people were jailed during the Central Michigan game.
Pulkrabek said even games with 10 to 15 bookings are better than the 20 to 30 per game the jail used to get. He said it has made a big difference in time and cost savings especially considering the downtown arrests that Iowa City police make after the game.
"If you tack that on, it makes it a larger burden for us," Pulkrabek said.
Iowa City officers, in their efforts to patrol the postgame revelry, have for years been taking only the worst of the offenders to jail, said Sgt. Denise Brotherton. It's common for officers to cite someone and then find them a safe ride home even, on occasion, helping them catch a cab, Brotherton said.
"That is quite a common practice for us," she said, adding that it has to be with the amount of intoxicated people officers encounter downtown on the weekends. "When we get to a certain hour of the night and time of the week, there are thousands."
Belligerent offenders or suspects accused of more serious crimes go to jail, Brotherton said. And officers sometimes help people to the emergency room, after which they might end up behind bars.
"Our goal is just to make sure they're safe," she said.