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COR discusses student safety

John Cameron | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In the wake of the party busts, student arrests and alcohol-related citations that marked the 2010-11 school year, the Council of Representatives (COR) kicked off its first fall meeting with an update on student safety Tuesday.

“We’re really trying to be deliberate in the first thing we address by making sure all our bases are covered with student safety,” student body president Pat McCormick said.

Though the first weekend of the fall has historically seen a spike in police-related incidents, student body vice president Brett Rocheleau was pleased to inform the group that no student arrests had yet occurred.

“It’s great news coming from last year, when at this time we had nearly 80 arrests,” he said. “Now, we have zero to date.”

Drawing statistics from a story in Monday’s South Bend Tribune, chief of staff Claire Sokas reported only two student citations from a total of 56 given in the area this weekend.

The drop in citations may be due in part to a recent police policy change outlined in an Aug. 11 email to students from student government.

The email stated police “will exercise discretion in addressing complaints regarding student gatherings … 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.”

Rocheleau discussed two reported incidents of student parties attracting police attention this week. He said the officers acted in accordance with the new policy.

“They did exactly what they said they’d do. They got the first [noise disturbance] call, came by and told [the residents] to quiet down. They didn’t get a second call, so they didn’t come back,” he said. “The second party was out of control, so they didn’t give a warning, but they didn’t make any arrests, they just gave a noise citation.”

While the policy of discretion may relieve some students, Sokas emphasized the warnings will only be offered once to each house, not for each party.

“Some people are under the impression the warnings are good for the entire year,” she said. “The way we’ve been interpreting this is that it’s for the first call to the house of the year, that it’s a warning.”

Rocheleau reminded members that the discretionary nature of the policy leaves no clear standards as far as which parties get warned and which get busted.

“It’s slightly vague in that they said they can break up the party on first call or they can give a warning,” he said. “It’s completely at their discretion.”

McCormick also specified that the policy is limited to the South Bend Police Department (SBPD), and students should not expect similar warnings before receiving citations at tailgates and other events.

“This procedure has been put in place by SBPD, and the [Saint Joseph] County and [Indiana State] Excise Police have not guaranteed they’ll follow it,” he said. “For game days, [excise police] will be on campus.”

Beyond negotiations with local law enforcement, McCormick said he hopes to increase student safety through educational events such as the Student Safety Summit, which takes place today at 6 p.m. on the Irish Green. Area police agencies will offer presentations, followed by a question-and-answer session.

“We’ve changed the location so it’s more accessible,” he said. “We hope this is another way for us to facilitate communication.”

Regardless of how informed students are about drinking laws, police policies and off-campus safety tips, Sokas said students choosing to drink underage can never count on law enforcement being lenient or issuing a warning.

“It’s a privilege and not a right,” she said.