It's that time of the year where you drink all the green beer you can until you're green in the face, and in university towns it can represent a particular headache of the non-alcoholic variety for police and residents. Yes, Tuesday is St. Patrick's Day, and representatives of the Guelph Police Service and the University of Guelph want you to know that they are prepared to keep the revelry in hand, and make sure everyone's having a good time whether they have a little Irish in them, or a lot.
Of course, drinking and celebrating in large groups is a semi-regular occurrence between the months of September and April in the Royal City, but what makes March 17 a different challenge for local law enforcement?
"St. Patrick’s Day tends to be more residential based with house parties and public drinking that starts very early in the day," says Cst. Mike Gatto, Public Information Officer for the Guelph Police Service. "Homecoming and long weekends tend to be more evening based and is more downtown based."
Considering that, the University of Guelph takes a lot of initiative to make sure that all students taking part in, or hosting, St. Patrick's Day activities, do so responsibly.
"We work closely with community partners, through the Town and Gown Committee, to identify outreach plans for St. Patrick's Day," explains Kathryn Hofer, Manager, Off Campus Living at Student Life at the University of Guelph. "This week students will receive an email from the Town and Gown committee encouraging responsible celebrations, and sharing information about hosting safe and responsible parties, along with information about city regulations and fines."
Like other area universities, the U of G has turned to community outreach as a way to better manage St. Patrick's Day frivolity, the hope being that talking to students and residents face-to-face, will foster better communication that will inform potential partiers where the line is.
"Through Off-Campus Living, we began our neighbourhood visits this week to off-campus properties that we have been in touch with this year," Hofer adds. "These visits focus on speaking with students about celebrating responsibly, increased Police and By-law presence, and being neighbourly. We also reach out to students on campus through different activities and information sharing opportunities prior to St. Patrick's Day."
Cst. Gatto provided information and statistics from GPS for last year's St. Patrick's Day revelry. In 2014, two search warrants were discharged for two planned keg party locations resulting in nine kegs seized and six individuals charged with unlawfully selling liquor under section 5(1) of the Liquor Licence Act despite advanced police warnings. Throughout St. Patrick's Day 37 Liquor License Act fines were handed out, along with 8 public urination fines, 7 public intoxication arrests, and 4 impaired driving charges.
Perhaps making things easier this year is the fact that St. Patrick's Day falls on a Tuesday, the middle of the work week, but there is another potential danger. "This year with it falling on March break we have to be prepared for the potential of more underage drinking but other than that we will plan like we do for any other St Patrick's Day," says Cst. Gatto.
And like any other St. Patrick's Day, police will be on the look out for noise, public drinking, fighting, drunk driving, and yes, people peeing where they shouldn't be peeing. Hofer says that if you see any of that on Tuesday then you should feel free to call police and by-law enforcement, but her people will also be out amongst the house parties to keep everything fun and comfortable for those celebrating, and those not.
"On St. Patrick's Day, Off-Campus Living has a neighbourhood spirit team that visits parties to speak with the hosts about their responsibilities and to provide a resource package with practical items like clear garbage bags," Hofer says. "We also talk to the hosts about Police and Bylaw presence on the day, and the importance of cleaning-up."
It seems that the measures on all sides are working, as Cst. Gatto says that the trend of behaviour over the last couple has been, "Definitely better."
"Through our partnership with the University of Guelph, Guelph By-law Officers and all members of the Town and Gown committee over the last few years we have made great strides through education of not only the student population but the community as a whole," Cst. Gatto adds.
"Students are aware of what it means to party responsibly," says Hofer, "and at the University of Guelph we work with our on and off-campus partners to place an emphasis on messages and education about responsibly partying at celebratory times of year."
Still, there are always surprises. "Probably the most unusual part of St Patrick’s is how early we sometimes find people passed out from drinking to much," Cst. Gatto says.
If you do have concerns about a St. Patrick's Day celebration in your neighbourhood, you can call the Guelph Police Service at 519-824-1212, or the By-law Compliance and Enforcement Office at 519-836-7275. Hofer also directed me to the Community Standards Protocol for responding to off-campus issues, which you can read here.