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Compromising with the police

Observer Editorial Board | Friday, September 2, 2011

By this time last year — only two weeks into the school year — about 70 students had already been arrested for alcohol-related incidents.

Not cited with a ticket, arrested — which often meant spending the night in jail.

One party bust resulted in a broken-down door, landed a police officer in the hospital and sent a total of 35 people to jail.

Police arrested one student for underage drinking when they knocked on his door, interrupting a night spent home alone with his girlfriend. The officers asked for identification, breathalyzed him and denied him the opportunity to put on a pair of shoes before taking him to jail.

These were just two of six stories The Observer printed about alcohol-related arrests or incidents in the first two weeks of school last year.

Heading into the first home football game, tensions were high between the student body and law enforcement, and many students feared this year would bring more of the same.

But it has not.

No students have been arrested yet for underage drinking, and the only alcohol-related stories The Observer has printed so far have been about the steps taken to avoid a repeat of last year’s clashes.

The cooperation between the University, police and student government is encouraging going into the first home football weekend. We applaud the effort made on all sides to find compromise, and we hope the tone set in the first two weeks will continue in the coming months.

Part of the credit goes to former student body president Catherine Soler and vice president Andrew Bell, who were effective in responding to the increase in arrests last year. Their administration’s efforts to meet with police and University officials helped soothe tensions and decrease arrests.

Student body president Patrick McCormick and vice president Brett Rocheleau have continued the work of the previous administration and have been proactive in coming to an understanding with police.

In an email sent to the student body Aug. 19, McCormick said police said they will “exercise discretion” in addressing complaints about student parties.

“If there are no outward signs of underage drinking, public urination, extreme littering, traffic obstructions or disrespect, the dispatched officers will most likely issue a warning to the house instead of immediately issuing citations and/or making arrests,” the email stated.

But if police receive a second complaint, officers will return to the scene and check for identification cards. The email said students would be arrested if they are underage with a blood alcohol content of .05 or above, or if any student is extremely intoxicated or disrespectful.

Though students would prefer to be able to drink alcohol and avoid legal action, the agreement McCormick outlined in his email seems completely reasonable. After all, police officers have jobs to do, and a warning gives students time to make smart decisions and avoid unnecessary trouble.

We hope police will indeed use “discretion” as we enter into football season, and in turn, the student body should use discretion as well.

Have fun, but don’t disrupt the entire neighborhood. If the police arrive at your party, be respectful and cooperative. And most of all, be safe.

South Bend may not be a major metropolis, but it has its fair share of crime. McCormick’s email said he had already received two reports of crimes against students, and there have been numerous break-ins to cars off campus.

Police are not just there to get you in trouble. Their cars could actually signal a sense of safety on late weekend nights, rather than induce a panic of fear. They have a job to protect us, too. So let them.

There may be disagreements between police and students about how to handle underage drinking, but that disagreement is as old as this University. Let’s find ways to compromise — police don’t have to be the enemy.

There may not have been any student alcohol-related arrests this year, but freshmen, it hasn’t always been this way. Let’s be smart and not take this encouraging start to the school year for granted.

There may be lingering fears after last year’s spike in arrests, but this year shows no sign of heading down that same path. To everyone involved, let’s make sure it stays that way.