MPD denies ASUI request, offers Alcohol Diversion Program as alternative
Kenny Hummel, an 18-year-old college freshman, was attending Washington State University in 2012 when he died from alcohol poisoning after being found unconscious in a dorm room. According to an article in The Seattle Times, Hummel’s blood-alcohol level was 0.4 percent — five times the legal limit. Washington passed a state-wide law in 2013 providing amnesty to minors who call in a medical emergency concerning alcohol, a law that is not present in Idaho.
The University of Idaho adopted an amnesty policy in the student code of conduct last year that protects students in the same situation from disciplinary action by UI. ASUI and the Moscow Police Department have been engaged in conversation since the summer about the possibility of extending that policy to the department’s jurisdiction, preventing legal action being taken against minors in an alcohol-related medical emergency. However, MPD Lt. David Lehmitz said in a meeting with ASUI senators that MPD will not be adopting an amnesty policy.
“I don’t see a policy like this coming in writing or coming from our courts,” Lehmitz said. “It really becomes about encouraging accountability and responsibility for actions and making sure your friend is still with you in the morning.”
Lehmitz said MPD currently has an Alcohol Diversion Program that allows first-time offenders who receive an MIP or a criminal citation to complete the program and have the offense removed from their record. This is an alternative to an amnesty policy that should still encourage minors to phone in a medical emergency, he said.
Though minors can go straight to the hospital and the police won’t be called, Lehmitz said police generally respond to medical emergencies faster than fire crews or emergency medical services, both of which are volunteer efforts in Moscow.
“The legal ramifications ultimately depend on whether or not the officer decides to issue an additional citation,” Lehmitz said. “The decision of the prosecutor is also something that a minor, either with or without representation, can enter into a conversation with.”
Lehmitz said MPD is still more than willing to open dialogue with ASUI in taking measures to educate students about safety and possible legal situations. The Drinking with Cops program is currently presented to all on-campus living groups, and Lehmitz said MPD is working with the UI Testing and Counseling Center on improving the program.
Following Lehmitz’s presentation to ASUI, several senators voiced remaining concerns about potential reasons that could deter minors from calling for help. ASUI Director of Communications Alysha Van Zante said ASUI was interested in pursuing ways in which MPD and ASUI can work together.
“We have to change the way we operate and educate,” Van Zante said. “We need to encourage people to do the right thing, but we need deliberate action to change the culture of drinking.”
Several senators voiced ideas and concerns in a session after the meeting with Lehmitz, but ASUI has not officially decided what actions to take following MPD’s refusal to adopt an amnesty policy. Whether it will remain a local issue or be taken to the State Legislature remains in question. Currently, 21 states have adopted varying amnesty policies, according to The Medical Amnesty Initiative, and ASUI could potentially address this as a state-wide issue rather than limiting it to Moscow and UI.
ASUI Senator Mike Ryan said his main concern, which was shared by several other senators, was the safety of the students at UI.
“This is a real problem,” Ryan said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed and those kids should be protected.”
Concerning protection of students, Lehmitz said he is a proponent of positively influencing students to make smart decisions and be responsible.
“I would say having that conversation with students is powerful,” he said. “Encouraging students to do the right thing can go a long way.”
Cara Pantone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org