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University addresses community relations

Aaron Steiner | Friday, October 10, 2008

Issues between students living off campus, their neighbors and police were discussed Thursday at a Community Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC) meeting at the South Bend Common Council.

Student leaders, local college officials and community leaders on the Coalition gathered for the first time this academic year. The Coalition was formed just over a year ago to address concerns about college students living off campus in the South Bend area.

Concerns about off campus parties on football weekends was the primary issue discussed, although South Bend Common Council members and residents said this season has been relatively “good.”

Coalition chair Al “Buddy” Kirsits, a South Bend Common Council member, said other than a few specific incidents – including the 37 people arrested Sept. 21 at a party on the 700-block of E. Colfax Ave. – on the whole, “things have been good.”

Marguerite Taylor, who lives in the northwest neighborhood, agreed, despite concerns going into the school year.

“We were holding our breath,” Taylor said, given the prospects for the football season in comparison to last year’s season.

“They didn’t have anything to party about [last year],” Taylor said.

But she said so far things have been good this season. Ann Puzzello, a Common Council member who lives in the area around Notre Dame’s campus, said a few particular incidents have garnered much attention.

“This fall, we’ve had a couple of very large parties, and most of you know about a few of them,” she said. These widely publicized incidents have sparked students concerns, she said, citing an Observer Viewpoint letter to the Editor by a student concerned and upset about the perceived targeting of students living off campus.

Notre Dame student body president Bob Reish told Coalition members that he agreed that a few particular incidents have been publicized, but on the whole, incidents involving student parties off campus have gone down from previous years.

Reish said Student Government continues to make efforts at improving community relations, mentioning the ongoing neighborhood block parties. In addition, he and student body vice president Grant Schmidt have addressed specific students involved in incidents.

“We’ve personally made efforts to speak with the students involved in these specific incidents,” Reish said.

South Bend Police Chief Darryl Boykins said the parties his department has responded to – including incidents where multiple arrests were made – were in response to repeated complaints from neighbors.

“We’re always aware, with Notre Dame, that they’re going to have parties,” Boykins said, “and a lot of times we don’t have the time to go by the house, unless we get calls.”

Boykins said after multiple complaints he decided to take specific action to deal with off campus student parties.

“I decided at that time, we were going to do a task force, and going to ride around on Friday and Saturday nights,” Boykins said, specifically addressing off campus parties.

“Our main reason was to enforce the laws,” he said, saying that he made the decision to arrest those in violation of the law.

Boykins also said that the Indiana State Excise Police independently addressed student parties around the same time.

“They came in with the fact that they were going to target underage drinking, which is helpful for us, because we don’t have the manpower to do that [on our own],” Boykins said.

Boykins said that students living off campus should be aware that if there are complaints, police will respond to the party and take action.

“If there are problems, we will enforce them. We will not turn our backs on the citizens that live here [year round],” he said.

Reish also mentioned that while students have been made aware of the well-publicized incidents – including the Sept. 21 E. Colfax Ave. incident – they are also aware that the crime rate in many of these areas has increased.

Reish said students have brought forward concerns that their safety off campus is being ignored while student parties are being targeted.

Several Coalition members were quick to mention that alcohol consumption and crime are often related.

“There’s no mention of the contributing factor of alcohol … and how that contributes to danger,” Matt Costello, a resident living on Notre Dame Avenue, said.

Coalition members agreed that students are in part responsible for their own safety.

“You cannot walk down the street at 2:30 in the morning, sloppy drunk, singing, and expect to be safe,” Taylor said.

Boykins said students who are intoxicated are “easy victims – people that they [criminals] can take advantage of, people they can bully,” and that criminals are looking specifically for students.

In addition, crimes like theft can often be avoided by greater action on the part of students, Boykins said, both being proactive – by locking doors and keeping valuables out of sight – and reactive – by notifying police immediately of suspicious behavior.

University Associate Vice President of Residence Life Bill Kirk said that Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) recently created a crime prevention officer position, and that officer has been working to educate students about what they can do to prevent crime.

Puzzello also mentioned the possibility of creating neighborhood watch groups to address concerns, and Brian Coughlin, University assistant vice president for Student Affairs, reminded Coalition members they had previously discussed creating an off campus crime alert system notifying students living off campus via e-mail of crime occurring in their area.

In addition, representatives from each of the colleges present discussed what their schools are doing to improve student safety and decrease incidents.

Reish mentioned the Off Campus Living Guide created by Student Government and the ongoing neighborhood block parties.

Maura Clougherty, Residence Hall Association president at Saint Mary’s College, said that the College offers self-defense courses and that students are now required to live on campus for their first three years at the school.

Kirsits commended the students and universities for the work they’ve done, and also said they were important to the community as institutions.

“I would like to commend everything the University of Notre Dame, and Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross bring to the community,” Kirsits said.