U. of I. Police remind students of medical amnesty

URBANA – The University of Illinois Police Department is reminding students of protections for those who call for medical help when someone’s had too much to drink.

State legislators passed a law in 2015, and new rules go into effect on June 1 which protect underage drinkers from legal trouble when they call 911 for someone in need of medical assistance.

U. of I. Police Chief Jeff Christensen said he hopes the new state law will remove students’ apprehension toward calling 911 when they have been drinking alcohol. The fear of getting in trouble for underage drinking sometimes prevents people from calling 911 and getting emergency medical assistance for someone who is over-intoxicated.

“Our concern always is, first and foremost, the well-being of our students and other campus community members,” Christensen said. “We don’t punish people who do the right thing by calling 911 when someone needs medical or police assistance. Please call us when you or a friend needs any kind of help.”

The law – which applies statewide – is in addition to a university policy which has been in place for many years. The university’s Medical Amnesty and Good Samaritan policy encourages students to take appropriate action to protect others’ safety by reducing students’ fear of legal or disciplinary consequences to the victim or themselves.

Thu University of Illinois, Champaign and Urbana police departments all adhere to the policy, which says first responders will focus on getting medical assistance for the person who needs it and not on issuing alcohol-related citations.

“We focus on education before enforcement,” Christensen said. “For years, the University of Illinois Police Department has sought to teach students to enjoy their free time in a way that is responsible and respectful of each other, our campus and the law. But the reality is that it sometimes gets out of hand. When it does, we want people to call us without fear of getting in trouble.”

Police do, of course, cite people for alcohol-related offenses when it is not tied to a medical emergency. In 2014, UIPD issued 147 citations for liquor law violations, and 600 cases were forwarded to the Office for Student Conflict Resolution to be dealt with outside of the legal system.

“Alcohol is a big contributing factor in many of the serious problems we see on campus: fights, sexual assault, DUI, and pedestrian-traffic conflicts, for example,” Christensen said. “Overconsumption of alcohol also diminishes students’ ability to respond in cases where they may be targeted by a criminal for robbery or aggravated assault.”

Police try to discourage the kind of behavior that leads to bigger issues. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 690,000 college students are assaulted each year by another person who has been drinking, and as many as 599,000 students receive unintentional injuries while intoxicated. The institute says as many as 1,825 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year as a result of those injuries.

“We don’t want alcohol to be the reason anyone gets hurt on our campus,” Christensen said. “We’re here to help, not punish.”