On June 17, Binghamton Mayor Rich David announced a “social host” ordinance law to enact penalties during situations of underage drinking.
The law states that a host of a social gathering where alcohol or drugs are being “possessed, served to or consumed by a minor,” can be imprisoned for 15 days or receive a fine of $1,000. This legislation comes after an unrecognized fraternity hosted a large gathering on 82 Front St. where an attendee tested positive for coronavirus. Jared Kraham, executive assistant to the mayor, noted that the legislation was being developed before the large gathering.
“The law was in the works in terms of going to be proposed prior to that event at 82 Front St.,” Kraham said. “But that event kind of crystallizes and is a good example of the types of potentially high-risk activity with underage drinking parties. And certainly in the world that we live in with COVID-19, packing in people together from a public health standpoint is a high-risk activity. So certainly the intent is to curb high-risk underage drinking but in the world of COVID-19, there’s other impacts of these parties as well.”
In a statement regarding the law passed by the city of Binghamton, the word “fraternity” is specifically mentioned.
“In the case of a fraternity house party, individuals on the lease or the entity that owns the property would be subject to prosecution or fine for hosting underage guests,” the statement read.
Kraham said that there could be exceptions to that rule if an individual under the lease was found to be absent and had no prior knowledge of the party after a thorough investigation was conducted. Additionally, Kraham noted that the legislation does not change any probable cause or privacy laws for the occasion when it may be suspected that underage drinking is occurring.
“The intent of this new law, really for the first time in a significant way, allows law enforcement to hold accountable the folks who are hosting parties that have underage drinking,” Kraham said.
According to the statement, the Binghamton Campus and Community Coalition (BCCC), an on-campus organization dedicated to reducing underage drinking, was heavily involved in the producing the legislation. Kraham noted that the partnership with the BCC was the first of its kind in creating a law with research support from a campus organization. Kraham said the city of Oneonta adopted a similar law and that the city of Binghamton mimicked their piece of legislation with their advice.
“One of the lessons learned from other communities that have adopted this is that this can be a tool for proactive prevention as well,” Kraham said. “If you have areas off campus which are known to host large gatherings and large amounts of suspected underage drinking, the folks living at these places can be made aware in advance that this law is in the books to be sure they are not supplying alcohol to minors, to be sure that you are engaging in safe activities and that kind of thing.”
In the statement released by the city of Binghamton, Joseph Zikuski, chief of Binghamton Police Department (BPD), said that this kind of legislation is groundbreaking in its ability to hold individuals accountable.
“Without a social host ordinance on the books, [BPD] would routinely respond to a large party with suspected underage drinking, assess the health and safety of participants and simply disperse the gathering — not having the means to arrest the hosts,” Zikuski said. “Now, responding officers can immediately ticket those in charge of the party or refer the case to detectives for further investigation.”
Theo Watson, a junior double-majoring in history and English, said the legislation strengthened police power during a time when police brutality is being protested nationwide.
“There are so many other things that need to be addressed in Binghamton University, and expanding police power at this moment is a clear statement that the University will disregard students’ wants and needs in favor of … what exactly?” Watson wrote. “More power where it is not required?”
Chris Pereira, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said the penalties of the law are too far-fetched.
“I think that the new social ordinance will be effective in reducing future COVID-19 cases in Binghamton, but the penalties for violating this ordinance are a little extreme,” Perriera wrote. “I believe that this ordinance will deter some students from hosting house parties, but overall will have very little effect on those who are no longer afraid of being exposed to COVID-19.”
Anna Shaheen, a senior majoring in environmental science, said the legislation is important in the age of COVID-19.
“In terms of the city being strict on parties, if they didn’t say anything, they would face backlash and they’re setting a boundary and still facing backlash,” Shaheen wrote. “Either way, you come out on top when you take into account scientific findings and show at least a shred of concern for other people’s livelihoods. So yes, maybe this upcoming school year will be boring, but at least it’s not a sorry excuse for normalcy free-for-all.”