By Katie Conklin
As students arrived at the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity house, off-campus on Patterson Avenue, on the evening of Oct. 15, they were greeted by Mac, a member of the fraternity and one of the residents of the house.
On this particular evening, it was Mac’s job to monitor the front door while his three housemates kept an eye on the number of people congregating in the backyard and made sure the music was not too loud. Everything was going well until a City of Richmond police officer arrived around midnight.
“What seems to be the problem, officer?” Mac asked.
Within minutes, campus police had arrived, Mac was in handcuffs and two students were being cited for underage drinking.
All four residents of the house were charged with maintaining a common nuisance and were required to meet with Patrick Benner, associate dean for resident life, which resulted in each of them being sentenced to year-long conduct probation, in addition to 15 hours of community service.
After hearing stories like Mac’s, University of Richmond students have found themselves fearful that, because of this year’s stricter enforcement of the school’s “Good Neighbor Policy,” they too could end up facing legal and administrative consequences as a result of their weekend festivities.
Even though the Good Neighbor Policy was implemented in 2007, many students had no knowledge of it until this year. Mimi Mudd, a member of the Westhampton College Government Association Security Committee, said that the policy was actually an agreement between university officials and residents of nearby neighborhoods that had been signed before the football stadium was built on campus.
“The university had to implement this policy because the presence of an on-campus football stadium was bound to lead to more tailgating, partying, drinking and, therefore, noise,” Mudd said.
The different components of the Good Neighbor Policy are listed within a special-use permit that was issued by the city council and granted the university permission to construct and operate Robins Stadium. The policy focuses on parking and drinking regulations.
In the hopes of preventing disturbances on game days, spectators have been encouraged to avoid neighborhoods and park their vehicles in the designated, on-campus lots. Furthermore, it has been made clear that the consumption of alcohol in public is illegal, and drinking laws will be enforced.
So how did this three-sentence clause about game-day conduct become a governing guide for parties held in off-campus houses?
David McCoy, the University of Richmond Police Department’s assistant vice president of public safety and chief of police, said that the existence of the Good Neighbor Policy has led to the creation of a Good Neighbor Hotline, which operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“This really opened the gates for interaction between neighborhood residents and the university,” McCoy said.
This hotline was established to allow neighbors to report any game-day disturbances or policy violations, in the hopes of keeping residents engaged in and satisfied with their relationship with the university. But as time passed, the hotline began to receive complaints about student conduct and activity that was unrelated to sporting events held in the stadium.
“Some of it had merit, and some of it did not,” McCoy said. “I mean, a little bit of noise is one thing, but we were getting reports of 2 a.m. parties with loud music and hundreds of students.”
Therefore, coming into this semester, McCoy met with his staff and had a discussion about what to do to address and resolve these complaints. At this meeting, it was decided that campus po;ice would partner with Henrico County and Richmond police inn order to create a “Party Patrol” program.
McCoy used the primary concerns of each police department to explain the reasoning behind the creation of this program. He discussed how the police in Henrico and Richmond have the interests of their neighborhoods in mind and, while University of Richmond students who live off campus are technically part of these neighborhoods, they are generally perceived as an issue and liability to the community. Meanwhile, campus police focus on student interests, and view neighborhood support as a secondary concern. Based on these distinctions, it was decided that it would be beneficial to combine priorities in an attempt to reconcile differences and handle these issues.
This initiative, which went into effect at the beginning of this school year, showed immediate results. Within the first two weeks of the semester, the Party Patrol broke up four parties at off-campus sites: three in Henrico County and one in Richmond.
This rapid succession of terminated parties caused quite a stir on campus. Austin Butler, a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, felt that students were primarily confused by what had happened.
“I think this degree of strict enforcement really took students by surprise,” Butler said. “At the time, it seemed like both the police and the community were pointedly attacking off-campus partying, a facet of campus life that had previously existed without any major issues.”
After those first two weeks of pandemonium, though, things quieted down substantially. McCoy said that since he early incidents there had been only one other, which was a return visit to a previously reprimanded group.
“I think there was a lot of discussion about those first four incidents because they occurred within a two-week timeframe,” McCoy said. “Since then, we haven’t received calls from the neighbors. Really, except for that one repeat location, our off-campus issues have gone away.”
Howard Norton, campus police’s operations commander, attributes this improvement to the police department’s ability to work with the students and talk through issues until they are resolved.
“We have some great students and 99.9 percent of the time things are going to be worked out equitably,” Norton said.
Some students, however, may beg to differ.
The off-campus location that received two police visits this year was the KA house on Patterson Avenue that Mac and his three other fraternity brothers live in. After the first police visit, which was prompted by a noise complaint, the residents of the house felt confident that they had learned from their mistakes and that, if all the necessary precautions were taken, their next party would be more successful. They informed their neighbors that they would be having a party on Oct. 15 that would begin at 10:30 p.m. and last until around 1:30 a.m.
“Our neighbors had no problem with our plans to have a party that night and actually seemed surprised that we were even telling them about it,” said Mac (who requested that his full name not appear in the story).
Despite attempts to monitor noise levels and make sure party guests remained inside the house, a city police officer arrived around midnight. Mac said the officer implied that there had been a noise complaint, but did not provide any details or explicitly state why he was there. The officer then asked Mac to let him into the house and Mac refused.
“He asked me if I wanted him to go get a warrant and then come back and arrest everyone at the party,” Mac said. “I told him I would be more than happy to let him into the house if he returned with a warrant, at which point he put me in handcuffs and began escorting me to his car.”
On the way to the car, the officer said he was going to report Mac to campus police for refusing to help put an end to the party. Mac said he had clarified that, although he wanted the officer to have a warrant before he entered the house, he was more than willing to shut down the party if it meant people would not get in trouble. They walked back, entered the house and the officer immediately gave out two citations for underage drinking. Campus police arrived shortly thereafter.
As a result of this incident, Mac is on conduct probation for the rest of the year, must complete 15 hours of community service and will appear in court in Richmond on Dec. 14. His housemates received similar sentences. From their perspective, these consequences seem to fall somewhat short of the “equitable” standard that Norton described as the norm in situations like these.
What can be done to improve the relationship between the students and the police?
Katrina Goulden, WCGA’s police liaison, said she believed the key was communication.
“As far as I know, until recently, members of the student body were not aware that the Good Neighbor Policy even existed,” Goulden said. “I think students deserve to be told what the policy is, what it entails and what is expected of them, considering it affects them in such a big way and they were given no say in its implementation.”
Mudd expressed a similar belief.
“I think it is really important to advertise the policy because if people had a better understanding, there would be less blame putting, which would alleviate some of the tension that currently exists between the students and the police,” she said.
The campus police could not agree more. McCoy said that he would be the first to admit that he should have engaged the student population in discussion about the policy before he took action.
“In my background there is a kind of expectation that you should already know the rules of the road,” McCoy said. “However, in this situation, the students are right on the money. Instead of doing things and then explaining them, I should have explained them before they had an opportunity to occur. I definitely think that engaging beforehand is the key to controlling the issue.”
McCoy repeatedly mentioned his desire to work on building a relationship between the campus police and the students, especially those who live off campus. He said he was hopeful that they would someday reach a level of comfort that would allow for open communication and mutual respect. Although the development of this relationship is one of McCoy’s top priorities, he is not under the impression that simply talking about these issues will eliminate them.
“Obviously, when it comes to solving problems and fixing issues, there are many factors to consider,” McCoy said. “I think the academic calendar, for example, plays an important role in this situation.”
He believes that, regardless of how clearly the rules and expectations are communicated, certain times of the year are going to remain perpetually problematic. He cited the beginning of the school year and the first week of warm weather in the spring as particularly troublesome times, while pointing out that the party scene is likely to calm down during midterms, finals and when the weather is cold.
How have students responded to the Good Neighbor Policy and its repercussions?
Jack Sandler, a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, adamantly opposes the policy.
“The way the police are interpreting and enforcing this policy is completely counterproductive,” he said.
Sandler said that the strict regulations not only fail to promote safety, but actually create a more dangerous environment. He said the Good Neighbor Policy would ultimately push off-campus locations farther and farther away from the university, which would consequently increase the distance students must travel to attend these parties. He said it was his belief that this situation would create a greater potential for mistakes and accidents.
When asked if he could see the validity behind the complaints of neighborhood residents, Sandler did not hesitate.
“If you lived next to an airport, would you complain about the noise?” he asked. “No. You wouldn’t, because you chose to live there. This situation is very similar. The University of Richmond has been here since 1830 and, therefore, anyone who lives in a neighborhood near this campus should be prepared to deal with the repercussions of that decision.”
Butler presented a different outlook on the policy, saying that he definitely supported the university’s collaboration with Henrico County and the City of Richmond, but would have appreciated a more straightforward explanation of how the policy would influence student conduct.
“I think the collaboration is great, but, at the same time, it is very difficult to rise to the occasion, and fulfill an expectation, when you have not been informed of the standards,” he said. “I think open communication between students and police is a pivotal and proactive way to make this policy function properly.”
Junior Julia Dearchs questioned the policy’s delayed enforcement.
“Since the Good Neighbor Policy was implemented in 2007, why is it just now being used to direct student conduct?” Dearchs asked.
Goulden attributed the change to McCoy’s appointment to the position of campus police chief, which occurred in March. She said the new police chief had a much stricter interpretation of campus police policies and regulations.
When asked for his opinion on why the policy is just now surfacing, McCoy said that he could only speak for what had happened since he had arrive on campus.
“When I get a complaint, I like to act on it quickly,” McCoy said. “I wanted to take a really active role in being personally involved with the issues on campus. We’re always going to have some bump-and-rub because we are a university located in the middle of a beautiful area, but I really think that if we work through this, the interactions do not have to be completely negative.”