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United Front: How five Richmond-area agencies coordinated to address underage drinking

April 11, 2016 | VACP

News Image Five law enforcement agencies in Virginia’s capital launched a public awareness campaign in fall 2015 to communicate the physical, professional and legal effects of underage drinking to college students.

Marketed as “RVA Buzzkill” in Richmond, Va., campaign materials and messages were adapted with permission from the Ohio Drug Free Action Alliance.

RVA Buzzkill united police departments at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, the University of Richmond and Reynolds Community College. The Richmond Police Department also participated in the campaign.

The target audience for RVA Buzzkill was students living in the neighborhoods surrounding Richmond-area colleges. Off-campus students lease apartments and houses during the academic year which are prime locations for serving alcohol.

The key message of RVA Buzzkill? “Serve Under 21 and the Party’s Over.”

Rather than simply discouraging underage drinking, or discouraging serving alcohol to those under 21, messaging specifically identified how such behaviors could negatively affect a person long term. Print and electronic materials addressed the following themes:

  • The connection between drinking and sexual assault
  • How alcohol affects athletes; violations of university and NCAA codes of conduct
  • Legal, academic and professional consequences for serving those underage
  • Liability for injuries sustained from underage drinking at off-campus properties

“The connection between sexual assault and underage alcohol consumption is so strong that organizationally we felt like we needed to use this campaign to intensify our focus,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “Messaging placed a greater emphasis on underage drinking through the lenses of awareness and prevention as part of our efforts to combat sexual assault.”

The following pre-scripted messages are samples of the messaging used on posters, in social media posts and in other formats:

  • “If you break the law you could be denied a professional license to practice your chosen profession. This is especially a concern for students majoring in health care, criminal justice and educational disciplines.”
  • “Myth: I’m not responsible for injuries that result from underage drinking on my property. Fact: If you allow someone under 21 to consume alcohol, you can be liable if the person hurts someone or damages property.”
  • “Each year 400,000 college students have unprotected sex and more than 100,000 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.”

Multimedia messaging efforts included:

  • Billboard signage on city buses
  • Radio ads
  • Social media posts tagged with #RVABuzzkill
  • Myth/Fact signs for residence halls and academic buildings
  • Stickers used by local businesses on items such as pizza boxes and beverage coolers
  • An #RVABuzzkill vehicle on VCU’s campus
  • Educational materials for students
  • T-shirts

The VCU Police Department acquired a wrecked car for placement on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus as a visual centerpiece at an outreach event with police, students and residence life staff members.

“RVA Buzzkill allowed us to align all of our programs and efforts under one umbrella program,” Venuti said. “The program also allowed consistent law enforcement messaging and content across multiple platforms, agencies and jurisdictions.”

Tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff were reached through VCU Police messaging and thousands more saw city buses, media reports, social media postings and RVA Buzzkill signage in downtown Richmond.

A second RVA Buzzkill campaign is in the planning stages for Fall 2016. VCU Police staff had the following takeaways from the collaborative campaign:

  • Merge communication efforts on shared problems between campuses and law enforcement agencies in a specific region.
  • Create a work plan for one or multiple agencies to manage the distribution of materials and to delegate responsibilities and track the project’s progress throughout the semester.
  • Be consistent in using messaging each week on social media to reinforce other printed and media materials.

The RVA Buzzkill project was funded by a Virginia Department of Behavioral Health (VDBHDS) grant to the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (VAHPERD) for school, campus and community media education to prevent underage drinking, and by a Virginia DMV grant to the Virginia Association for Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (VACLEA) to plan campus law enforcement strategies to prevent underage drinking and impaired driving. The program was also supported by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Efforts are already underway to launch a Buzzkill campaign on college campuses in the Hampton Roads region.

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Photo Caption: Two buses in Richmond Va., were wrapped with RVA Buzzkill messaging to reach a citywide audience. The bus routes included the heart of the city and VCU’s campuses --- areas where college students frequent for shopping, dining and entertainment.