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Student government meets with South Bend police

John Cameron | Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two meetings in the past week between student government, the University and local law enforcement were part of ongoing communication between these groups, student body president Catherine Soler said.

Soler said improvements made since the number of arrests spiked in August and September have been extensive, but student complaints have warranted dialogue with police.

“I think we’ve come a long way, and I think that’s evident speaking with students involved in incidents and speaking with police,” Soler said. “We do have some questions about things that happened and [police] are doing some investigation on their part.”

Soler and chief of staff Nick Ruof met with South Bend Police Chief Capt. Jeff Rynearson Friday night. Tuesday, Soler, Ruof and student body vice president Andrew Bell met with the chiefs of both Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) and South Bend Police Department (SBPD) as well as the St. Joseph County’s Sheriff’s Department and members of University administration including Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Doyle and Vice President for Public Affairs Tim Sexton.

“Everyone in the room had the same goals, keeping the students safe, keeping the community safe,” Soler said. “Everyone was genuinely interested in not only making things better but maintaining it.”

Soler said the talks highlighted the steps taken on both sides of the issue: Students are making better decisions and police are being more consistent in enforcement.

“Capt. Rynearson of SBPD said he’d seen a noticeable difference in student behavior since the fall,” she said. “Not necessarily less parties but just being smarter, which is a good thing for everyone.

“At the party at Irish Row, the police set a limit, .05 [blood alcohol content] or above would be taken to jail and below would be cited. Which is good because at least there’s expectations and standards.”

Soler said while alcohol-related student arrests and citations still occur, the police have made strides in their execution.

“In terms of respect and professionalism we’ve come really far,” she said. “We see a lot less antagonism and students don’t feel as targeted. The police [leaders] definitely expressed that [other officers] had been instructed to ensure that that’s not the attitude that comes off when they interact with students.”

At the meeting the representatives also discussed improving relevant student programming, Soler said.

“We talked a lot about programming we can do at the beginning of the year,” she said. “Not only alcohol education but a lot of safety stuff.”

As improving police relations has been a major part of the Soler and Bell’s efforts as student government leaders, Soler hopes that communications continue to improve.

“Up until this year, students didn’t really have an opportunity to meet with the police [through student government],” she said. “We all agree this communication should continue to happen in the future, that it’s been a catalyst on both sides.”