Underage drinkers finding ways around Iowa City's 21 ordinance

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - A law hailed as a tool to fight the underage binge drinking culture in Iowa City is starting to have an impact. Iowa City passed an ordinance banning anyone under the age of 21 from bars after 10 o’clock five years ago.

An Iowa City Police car. Photographed on Saturday, June 22, 2013. (Kaitlyn Bernauer/Gazette-KCRG9)

But one University of Iowa student said students still find ways around the ordinance, even if that means breaking other laws.

“It was my sophomore year that I got one. I just googled fake ID’s online and the first website that popped up had good reviews,” the 19-year-old student said. He asked us to conceal his identity because he uses a fake ID now. “You put any information you want on the card, you submit your own photo, you type in a fake address, choose your state.”

Police confiscated 25 percent more fake ID’s in 2015 compared to 2014. Teams of police battle the issue each weekend completing 2,168 bar checks from September 2013 to September 2014.

“We’re not naïve enough to think that just because we have laws in effect, people aren’t going to try to test the limits of the laws,” said sergeant Scott Gaarde, with the Iowa City police department.

Police statistics show the number of citations issued for Under 21 violations increased in the last year, although police are also completing fewer bar checks.

“Quite frankly, our calls for service have been dropping downtown,” Gaarde said. “We don’t have to maintain as much of a presence as we have had in years past.”

Critics of the ordinance also warned of increased and unsafe house parties If underage students were pushed out of bars earlier in the night. But police said the opposite has happened.

“There was an initial increase in disorderly house citations and calls for service in the neighborhoods but part of the correlation of that is we had a stronger presence in the neighborhoods to try to mitigate that,” Gaarde said. “I think right now, as you’re seeing these numbers drop, you’re seeing the effects of the long term success of this ordinance.”

For students, the ordinance is easy to manipulate and risks, including fines or an arrest, is often worth it.

“It’s 110% worth it to me. Being downtown with your friends, there’s nothing like it,” the anonymous student said. “From what I’ve experienced, the 21 Ordinance doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t even cross anyone’s mind.”