The last Ohio State football home game of the season is Saturday, and many students will be celebrating in game-day fashion, with house parties, tailgating, likely to be coupled with a lot of drinking.
But with uniformed and undercover police officers on foot and on bikes, it’s often difficult for students to know what their rights are, and know how to respond when approached by an officer.
A student can be arrested for underage drinking on the porch of a house, said Sgt. Rich Weiner of Columbus Police. A student under the age of 21 can also be arrested on a sidewalk, in the yard of a property, and inside a residence. Underage students can also be arrested for holding a closed can of alcohol.
If a student throws a party in a residence and police enter the party, “you can be charged for allowing people to drink under the age of 21,” Weiner said.
Underage drinking is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Police typically get called to parties if there is a problem, such as loud music.
“City code dictates that music can’t be heard from more than a certain distance, and if it is, that can be cited,” Weiner said.
“Typically what happens is if we see a large party getting out of control, No. 1 they may have people coming to that party that don’t belong there, but also if we have any problems there, we need to establish someone who is responsible for that property for if there are any problems later.”
Fights are another common problem that attract police.
“If fights happen typically we get a call, and if we get multiple calls from the same place throughout the night, we take steps to make sure we have no more issues,” Weiner said. “More often than not, we’re driving by the parties and everyone is acting as they should be. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re not trying to stop people from having a good time.”
A common fallacy held among students is that if they surround their private property with a fence during a party, the police cannot enter it.
“It depends on the facts known to police at time,” Weiner said. A fence “would not prevent policemen from entering a yard. We’re not going to come into a residence unless we believe criminal activity is going on, and we’re not going to come in and violate people’s rights.
We would come in because we were called or because there are other facts known to officers.”
Police are not allowed to enter a party unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. However, if the front door is open and can see that someone suspected to be under 21 is drinking, they are allowed to come in.
Undercover officers, although not very common, are present in Columbus, Weiner said.
“If information is known to officers, they can send in an undercover, if the party is open to the general public,” Weiner said. “For example, at a front door, if they try to go in, if a person at the party says no, the officer won’t be allowed in.”
Weiner said Columbus Police officers would usually prefer to be seen when patrolling off campus or at tailgates on gamedays
“We’re not here to stop people from celebrating and having a good time, we’re here to protect property and people,” Weiner said. “It’s my duty to provide a safe environment, and if I fail to do that, if there’s a problem and I didn’t do anything, I would be negligent.”
When students are arrested, police can search them to look for weapons or other dangerous items, Weiner said.
If questioned, Weiner said “you do have the right to remain silent.”
“The officer will ask you information such as your name and address, and that is general information which we are allowed to ask without mirandizing somebody,” Weiner said. “Miranda comes in when you take them down to headquarters when the person is under arrest. We are allowed to ask investigative questions such as how much you’ve had to drink without Miranda.”
Under the First Amendment, students can say whatever they want when being arrested.
“If you threaten the police with violence, that’s a crime,” Weiner said. “You can’t do that to a normal citizen either.”
Weiner said if a student runs away, “we will chase you to try to find out why, because it would lead us to believe something else is going on.” Running away may lead to an arrest depending on the circumstances.
“It is not us against the students or anyone trying to have a party,” Weiner said. “It’s about responsibility in having those parties, and when issues come up, it’s because people are calling us because they’re in trouble. It’s about having a safe environment.”