Champaign makes over $100,000 a year by targeting students

Late last week, the Champaign City Council announced plans to review the city’s underage drinking ticket fine, and it’s about damn time. It was even mentioned in Good Reads back in October.

If you went to undergrad the University of Illinois, you probably have experienced the fear associated with a drinking ticket. Whether it be a house party or a bar (that conveniently allows 19 year-olds in?), the constant possibility of punishment rings present on the mind of party-goers.

But did it ever seem strange how underage students are allowed into Champaign bars in the first place? Due to a Champaign city ordinance, underage patrons can legally pack into campustown bars in Champaign. 

Just to reiterate, the only reason underage patrons are allowed in the bar in the first place is because of a city law. Then, when they drink (in the bar, a place exclusively for drinking, that they are legally allowed to be in), the police are often right outside (and sometimes even in) the bar to catch them.

Seems a little fishy, no? Borderline entrapment, maybe?

Well folks, today we have relative proof that the City of Champaign has been targeting (and profiting massively off of) college students via predatory drinking ticket practices and egregiously large fines.

That’s a lofty accusation, but it is clearly backed up by data. Let’s check the books, shall we?

A recent Freedom of Information Act request turned up records of every drinking ticket issued by the City of Champaign between August 1, 2018 and August 1, 2019.

Over this year-long period, 309 underage drinking tickets were written, totaling $108,150 in fines.

But none of this explicitly proves that the police were targeting students. Perhaps they were targeting non-students also? Maybe busting some high school parties?

They weren’t.

The time-frame in which the tickets are distributed is the tell-tale sign. In the date range surveyed (8/1/18 – 8/1/19), zero drinking tickets were handed out before August 24th (roughly move-in weekend) and after April 20th (roughly graduation). Not a single drinking ticket was given over summer break, when the vast majority of students leave Champaign-Urbana.

This seems logical. I’m sure no underage drinking happens in town when school is out of session (/s). 

It’s very clear that City police are targeting students; there is no other explanation for taking the entire summer off of enforcing this rule.

What is perhaps most absurd of all, however, is the sheer price of an underage drinking ticket in Champaign.

The minimum fine for underage drinking in Champaign ($350) is more than the minimum fine (in Champaign) for a litany of crimes, including:

  • Animal Cruelty
  • Pulling a fire alarm
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Breaking and Entering
  • Property Damage
  • Prostitution

Here’s the full list.

So what we have here is pretty clear – the City levies harsh penalties specifically at college students, exclusively during the semester(s), and reaps massive financial reward. Gross. I get that the City is going to make money off of fines, I just wish they’d do it ethically.

I applaud the Council for their recent acknowledgement of this absurdity, but I do have to wonder why it took so long. Maybe that profit was just too sweet.

Either way, the solution is fairly easy, just raise the bar entry age to 21 like *checks notes* every other college town.