By Emily Harris
Prior to Homecoming weekend, members of the SGA Executive Board invited students who live off campus to a discussion about off-campus policies and law enforcement policies concerning underage drinking and partying. The meeting took place on Monday, Oct. 13 in Norman James Theater and was followed by a meeting open to campus on Tuesday, Oct. 14 in The Egg.
The SGA held the meeting to clarify what the existing off-campus policies are for Washington College and what reaction students can expect from the College and Chestertown Police Department if an off-campus party gets out-of-hand. The dialogues at these meetings were solely between students as opposed to the meeting at the beginning of the year that included administration and law enforcement. According to the Vice President of the SGA Maddie ZinsMembers of the SGA have already communicated with Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Sarah Feyerherm, and Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Xavier Cole.
“The stories that students told us about their incidents with Public Safety both on and off campus were pretty in line with what we were told to expect by Gerry Roderick, however, those incidents involving the Chestertown Police department were a bit different,” said Zins. “We were told by Jerry Roderick both specific outcomes to expect in response to complaints and violations as well as overall mindsets and purposes of the police in these policy issues. From hearing these student perspectives and sensing trends, we now understand that there may be a difference in the way in which the policy is explained at the top of the chain and how it trickles down on an officer-by-officer basis.”
Students expressed concerns before the meeting was held, and some have approached the Chestertown Police Department as tensions have escalated between students and town residents. Chief of the Chestertown Police Department Adrian Baker encouraged students to call the Chestertown Police Department with questions or approach police officers with their questions. He said that it is up to the responding officer’s discretion to determine the severity of the situation. “When they come out there, they’ve got to assess the situation,” said Baker. “It is subjective in some degree, and it should be because we want to be fair to everybody so each case really is a little different.”
At the meeting on Oct. 13, students called for more transparency as far as what constitutes a warning prior to receiving a citation since many felt they had not been properly warned before citations were issued. Baker said that having a response protocol set in stone for officers to follow could lead to problems if the violations of ordinance or laws were “egregious.” He said, “There’s not going to be an absolute. I can probably understand some frustration in that.”
Baker outlined the progression of citations based on the number of offenses. Noise citations start at $100 for the first offense, while a citation for a loud party starts at $500. After the first citation is issued, the fine doubles.
Baker emphasized the distinction between town ordinances and state laws. “The town ordinances in some cases are enforced by the police, and then there are others that are enforced by the town [Zoning] Administrator [Kees] de Mooy which would be the chronic nuisance one… It depends on where the charging authority comes from, so it’s fair to say in the scope of severity the town violations are the most minor. [It] might not necessarily be in dollars. There could be a violation of state law that costs $70…and the town violation is $100. But as far as a record…a violation of a town ordinance doesn’t compare,” Baker said.
A major topic of discussion at the meeting was Public Safety’s capacity to assist CPD at an off campus residence. Baker said that the police have access to information like date of birth through the same resources they use for traffic stops, so Public Safety will not need to assist in the capacity of checking birth dates. However, Public Safety officers can observe off-campus activity.
The consequences of student behavior off campus largely fall on the tenants of off-campus rentals, but many do not see tenants as the only culprits. Students traveling between campus and off-campus houses also contribute to the littering and noise along Washington Ave.
“You will certainly have some residents who are more sensitive than others,” said Baker. “That’s sort of subjective in the residents’ interpretation, but ultimately they have to be, from enforcement point of view treated the same.”
Baker said that based on past years, the amount of party activity and complaints that stem from it are likely to decrease as the weather cools. “So by all means, this is not a witch hunt by the police… But we also are complaint-driven, and we have a response and obligation to assist the citizens who make the complaint. We’ve got to come check it out, and sometimes we determine that it’s not valid. Sometimes it is.”
The SGA plans to continue the discussions with students in the near future and continue to seek input from College administration and local law enforcement. Following the initial meeting on Oct. 13, plans were made to bring Chief Baker to the SGA senate meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 21. “We hope to move forward and work with the town, administration, and above all the student body to promote healthy and respectful approaches to social life regarding issues around partying and drinking and are planning on launching a campaign to do so,” said Zins.
Baker said, “I think everyone that has a piece of this pie is trying to help educate and help be consistent, so that’s all a good thing. In the end, it does just come down to if you’re being responsible and somewhat considerate I guess would be the word, then you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Students who wish to have a voice in these discussions should contact their SGA senator, President Connor Harrison, or Vice President Maddie Zins.