We don't generally have a high opinion of harsh underage drinking laws. Students under 21 have, and always will, get away with flouting them, and harsh penalties for this behavior can have disastrous consequences. Arrests for even minor infractions can destroy students' chances of being admitted to graduate schools or employed at some jobs, and the threat of arrest can discourage students from calling for medical attention when it is truly needed.
However, the shortcomings of underage drinking laws don't entitle students to behave however they please. College students aren't the only people in Providence, and should recognize that other locals don't like it when, for example, the victim of one too many Beirut games pukes on begonias on the path back to Perkins.
The public interest and the grave consequences of an arrest should both be taken into account by the Providence Police in their efforts to curb excessive partying among Rhode Island college students in the Elmhurst district. The crackdown, called (no joke) Operation Red Cup, has racked up 70 arrests in only three weeks. The severe response has been motivated by complaints from Elmhurst residents, one of who compared the atmosphere created by out-of-control partying to "a war zone."
We understand the neighbors' complaints. We too would not like to live in a place where "loud late-night music and other noise, littering, vandalism, fights, trespassing, and public sex, vomiting and urination" are commonplace. However, we're concerned that the neighbors' grievances, though legitimate, may have led to an unnecessarily harsh response by the police. There is a middle ground that would curb the worst excesses of Elmhurst extravanganzas without unfairly punishing the students involved.
When police encounter a party where minors are being served, they should not arrest or cite every underage student they can catch. Instead, they should warn the party's hosts, after taking their information, that any future infractions will result in their arrest for providing minors with alcohol (a threat that should surely be enforced). This approach will give students a strong incentive to keep parties from getting out of hand without incarcerating an undue number of students.
Other punitive measures — including a proposed ordinance that would fine landlords for not evicting tenants who incur three noise complaints in the course of a year — need to be rethought. Noise complaints can be filed frivolously, and the cap could result in the eviction of those who merely listen to music too loudly while studying. Only noise complaints that stem from a party should count towards the limit.
The police may already be thinking along these lines. If not, we urge them to reconsider their policies. A moderate set of regulations can ensure that Elmhurst remains a livable place for all of its residents.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials-at-browndailyherald.com.