National Mall a haven for drunk students

Starting this fall, a new class of students will partake in a GW ritual: walking down to the monuments in the late evening or early morning, sometimes intoxicated.

“You just kind of have to do it within your four years,” sophomore Drew Bono said.

Sophomore Andrew Springer said the monuments are usually a good choice for a group of people that has nothing else to do.

“I did it freshman year when we were bored late at night,” he said. “It’s a cool place to go and relax on a nice night.”

While students, drunk or sober, may find the National Mall to be a great source of entertainment at night, D.C. and University officials suggest that students saunter with a bit of caution.

William Line, communications director for the National Park Service, said that although the Mall is safe, he does advise students to travel at night in a group.

“As in any large city, it is safest not to go alone,” he said. “Go with a friend.”

The statues and structures on the Mall are patrolled by the U.S. Park Service, which has a full-service police station and similar powers as the Metropolitan Police Department.

Line pointed out that on July 4, there were only four arrests made out of a 600,000-person crowd, and all those arrests were for fighting. He added that there have been very few incidents on the Mall in the past and while students should be cautious, he is confident in the Park Service’s abilities to keep the area safe.

“We have a very strong safety record with very few problems, but when you live in a large metropolitan area common sense should prevail,” he said.

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said she finds the Mall generally safe at night and would not caution students not to take the stroll.

“I have not heard of any major safety-related issues down there at night, and I do frequent that area at night myself and have not seen anything that would make me believe that it is any more unsafe than any other area of the city,” she said.

In some cases however, the biggest threat to students’ safety may be themselves. In March 2004, a sophomore jumped into the Tidal Basin in what was ruled an accidental death. The Tidal Basin lies directly adjacent to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and close to a number of other monuments.

While a number of students end up making the trek to visit Abe Lincoln and veterans from three wars after drinking, they should be aware that U.S. Park Police strictly enforces a no-alcohol policy at the monuments.

Even with the flock of drunken students who frequent the Mall, Line said he is not aware of any arrests for student intoxication at the monuments. He added that the penalty for belligerent public drunkenness or consuming alcohol at any national park will result in a citation and a court date. Defendants can either pay a fine or plead not guilty and appear in court.

Sgt. Scott Fear, a U.S. Park Police spokesman, said there are not a large number of citations for public drunkenness or open containers at the Mall at night.

“Officers use good discretion for underage drinking,” Fear said. “If people are out of hand then action will be taken, but if you’re in control, they’ll just make you dump it out and continue with your business.”

Line said Park Police prepare for the popularity of the monuments at night, adding that even professional tour guides encourage tourists to visit the Mall in the evening.

“It is often said that Washington is best seen at night,” he said. “There is a certain excitement and brilliance of seeing the sights at night because it is well- lit, and the bright lights create a contrast with the dark sky.”

And although walking the Mall may be a safe bet for a tipsy student looking for some fun, others say they have more important things to do.

“I haven’t gotten around to it,” said sophomore Joe DeLeo. “I’m more concerned with getting some girl action.”

-Gabriel Okolski and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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