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UW-Madison police

UW-Madison police say the number of underage drinking citations they gave out this fall rose by about 50 percent.

The number of underage drinking tickets given out by UW-Madison police rose about 50 percent this fall, officials say, driven by an effort from the department to crack down on dangerous drinking habits.

Police cited 416 people for possessing alcohol underage between Aug. 20 and Nov. 4 compared to 276 people in the same time period last year. The number of underage alcohol-related police contacts, which include citations and warnings, nearly doubled in that time as well.

UW police spokesman Marc Lovicott said the spike in underage tickets was the result of stepped-up patrols in dorm rooms and around campus meant to prevent excessive drinking.

The department brought in extra officers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to help with the efforts, and is applying for a grant to fund the initiative next year.

“We really wanted to hone in on underage drinking and the over-consumption of alcohol,” Lovicott said.

Many students “pre-game” in dorm rooms on weekend nights, drinking at what Lovicott called “dangerous levels” before going to bars or parties off campus.

“They’re really stocking up on the consumption of alcohol early on in the night,” he said. “They gradually lose control as the night goes on.”

Underage drinking tickets cost first offenders $263.50, and get more expensive with subsequent offenses. Students cited for drinking can also face sanctions from the university, and many are required to take an alcohol education course as well.

Police didn’t decide to increase their patrols just so they could hand out more drinking tickets, Lovicott said. Rather, they did it because alcohol plays a role in so many of the problems police respond to, he said, from fights and trips to Madison’s detox center, to sexual assaults and robberies.

“We’re trying to get at the root cause of a lot of the issues that we see,” Lovicott said.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.