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Students, University respond to arrests

Sarah Mervosh | Friday, September 3, 2010


In response to the large number of students recently arrested and incarcerated for underage drinking, representatives from the University and student government met with the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) this week.
These meetings opened communication channels and resulted in small changes in SBPD procedure, Fr. Tom Doyle, vice president for Student Affairs said.
South Bend police officers will wear and activate body microphones, Doyle said.
“As long as they’re in proximity to the car, there will be an audio account,” he said. “This is for the officer’s security and this is for everybody’s security.”
Student body president Catherine Soler met with the SBPD Thursday night, and said the aim of this meeting was to decrease tensions between the student body and law enforcement officers.
“They are going to continue to do their job, but with a bit more of an understanding of the student’s perspective,” student body president Catherine Soler said after Thursday night’s meeting. “There is definitely going to be more discretion in the situations involving arrests and ticketing.”
Doyle said the University met with police because students repeatedly shared stories in which they felt their rights or dignity had been violated when interacting with law enforcement officers. 
 “It’s the pattern to me that is of most concern,” he said. “We need to make sure that our students’ rights and their dignity is protected and that’s why we went down to meet with them face to face.”
But Doyle also said there are two sides to every story and used the University’s meeting with police Tuesday as an opportunity to hear from the other side. 
“They have a very hard job to do and we understand that,” he said. 
Doyle said SBPD was “receptive” and Soler agreed. She said student government plans to meet with police again within two weeks. 
Both the University and police recognized the attention to, and punishment for, alcohol related violations this year is different than it has been in the past.
SBPD spokesman Capt. Phil Trent attributes this change to circumstances, rather than a “conspiracy.”
Trent said Notre Dame student off-campus housing used to be concentrated around Eddy Street and Notre Dame Avenue, as were the bars and night spots for students.  Now, students live in more residential neighborhoods and parties draw more complaints.
Trent said officers are responding to noise complaints and are “not trying to hinder or put a stop to the college experience.”
“From our perspective, we’re getting calls from people and they’re saying ‘I’m trying to sleep and there’s a mob behind my house,'” he said.
The recent trend to incarcerate students — rather than issue citations — stems from the fact that police hold a certain amount of liability for students who are allowed to go home, Trent said.
For example, if a group of people are stopped on Washington Street, two miles from campus, they would have a lengthy walk back to campus after being issued a citation and could potentially get into trouble.
Police have also noticed younger students appear “profoundly drunk,” even when they have low blood alcohol contents, because of their lack of experience with alcohol. 
“We’re not in a situation any longer where we can just shrug and allow 50 or 100 students in a residential neighborhood to just disperse,” Trent said. 
Trent expects complaints will subside once the weather cools down because parties will move indoors and residents will sleep with their windows shut. 
Going into the first home football weekend, there will be 25 South Bend police officers patrolling the city Friday and Saturday night, Soler said. 
Indiana State Excise Police Commander Lt. Tim Cleveland said excise police will also be in St. Joseph County this weekend, but does not have plans to step up enforcement.
He added that it is not excise officers’ protocol to incarcerate people for underage drinking, but certain conditions may provoke it.
“If they’re not cooperative or they’re too intoxicated, then I’ll leave that to my officers discretion as whether to incarcerate,” he said. 
Cleveland also encouraged students to work with law enforcement officers and said “a little cooperation goes a long way.” 
“I expect my officers to be respectful of those that they’re citing or arresting, and likewise we expect those who are being issued summons or arrested to be respectful as well,” he said. 
Doyle asked students, especially those who are underage, to be “model citizens” in the community this weekend.
“Our hope is that we can get through this weekend without significant incident or conflict, that we can start to build the kinds of communication channels between administration and students and law enforcement where we’re not so much in conflict with one another,” he said.
Soler said the student body can expect an e-mail from student government detailing the meeting with SBPD sometime today. 
“There were lots of conversations we can work on within student government that can lead to greater changes,” she said.