Citation evokes questions on students’ relations with U. City police

| Contributing Reporter

Ames Place, the neighborhood between The Delmar Loop and Washington University’s Danforth Campus, has been the center of various complaints submitted to the University City Police Department about the behavior of students in the area. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Ames Place, the neighborhood between The Delmar Loop and Washington University’s Danforth Campus, has been the center of various complaints submitted to the University City Police Department about the behavior of students in the area. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

While the administration has been concerned with an increase in noise complaints attributed to Washington University students from the local community, some students living off-campus claim they have been wrongly accused and held accountable in individual cases.

Junior Sean Fischer, who lives near the Ames Place neighborhood between the Danforth Campus and the Delmar Loop, received a court summons three weeks ago from University City police for creating a disturbance in the neighborhood, though he denies any involvement with the incident.

Fischer said he was on bed rest from swine flu early Saturday morning when his roommate, returning from a charity gala, woke him around 1:45 a.m. to tell him the police were outside the door looking for him.

“I had gone to bed at 9 p.m. It took me two and a half hours to fall asleep,” he said. “I was really frustrated to be woken up. I had no idea what was going on. I thought I was dreaming.”

Fischer was approached by two officers and their sergeant in the hallway of his building and charged with disturbing the peace. According to Fischer, the sergeant said one officer had seen a perpetrator lighting fireworks enter the building and let in to his apartment.

Despite Fischer’s protests that he could not have been involved because he was asleep, the police presented him with the summons.

“They didn’t listen to anything I said,” he said. “They didn’t say this, but what seemed implied was they couldn’t find whoever was lighting off the fireworks, and the officer thought I had let someone in, so the blame falls on me, which doesn’t make sense. I was almost an easy scapegoat.”

Fischer’s encounter with the police comes two months after University officials’ call for a “Good Neighbor” brainstorming session between student leaders and administrators to address the mounting problem of complaints from local residents. Area residents have cited loud noises from students late at night, beer cans left on residential property, stolen signs, inappropriate drawings on cars, and other acts of misconduct.

Since the second meeting in early October, the administration has made short-term efforts and prepared more long-term ones to help increase the number of positive interactions between students and local residents.

Along with a leaf-raking charity event benefiting fallen firefighters and police two weeks ago, members of the “Good Neighbor” initiative also plan to implement future programs that would raise student awareness about their responsibilities as community inhabitants, according to Cheryl Adelstein, director of community relations and local government affairs.

Complaints against students generally go to Adelstein’s office—sometimes directly or through police reports.

“We work very closely with the U. City police. [They] take the lead as they should,” Adelstein said.

“We have a strategy and use certain protocols about what we do in certain situations.”

Fischer, however, believes the police department’s effort to respond to every noise complaint has caused some officers’ frustration.

“These officers are actually responsible for a much larger territory that has a lot more crime going on than noise complaints,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of [them,] and they say one of the most frustrating things is that they have to respond to all these calls. That frustration may or may not have been taken out on me.”

Fischer also said he is aware of other students who have had similar experiences.

“[The police] might not necessarily be giving hard evidence as to why they are writing summons for people who they assume are probably at fault,” he said.

“The overall attitude of some of these officers has been very accusatory, I would say.”

According to Captain Mike Ransom of the University City Police Detective Bureau, the police department maintains a good relationship with students and “an excellent working relationship” with the University administration.

Ransom cannot comment on Fischer’s specific case since it is still pending in court, except to say, “We have a good relationship with the students living in the area. We treat them just like any other residents of University City.”

Fischer, after consulting a lawyer, has decided to present his case at his January court summons and file a formal complaint against the officers who wrote his summons.

“What I want to get out of it is to show the U. City cops that this is ridiculous and that [they] can’t be pushing people around like this, scaring them with their badge,” he said.

Junior Andrew Bort, Zeta Beta Tau president, who resides in his fraternity house on Forsyth and was present at the “Good Neighbor” meeting, remembers one incident last year that gave him the impression the police were cracking down heavily on noise complaints.

“There were probably 30 brothers at the house,” Bort said. “We had music in the basement but nothing upstairs. [The police] came into our house and told everyone to leave. It was actually really strange.”

Bort, however, said the fraternity has improved its relationship with the police this semester “by not giving them anything to worry about.”

“We had a lot of problems last year with noise complaints,” he said. “We’ve been a lot more careful with how we run events at our house [this year]. It was just a matter of being aware of the people who live in the community.”

  • OffCampus

    People should be more willing to talk to their neighbors. Our neighbors need to realize that a noise complaint is not necessarily something to call the police about. Excessive partying in the street or outdoors or after certain hours might merit a police call. But something inside and on a quieter scale should, in my opinion, be handled neighbor-to-neighbor. This would prevent the police from being aggravated with the students and from writing us unnecessary citations to cover the cost of their time spent responding to the call.

    My roommates and I recently introduced ourselves to all of our “non-WashU” neighbors. My neighbors now have my cell phone number so that, in case of a issue, they direct their complaint to me first and the police second. I haven’t yet seen the results of this, but I hope it works. I’m not thrilled with the idea of the old man living next door calling me, but I would rather he bother me two or three more times this year, than receive another rude visit from the police.

    I suggest other WashU students consider doing something similar to this. Maybe then our neighbors can treat us as such, instead of a bunch of hooligans. This will allow our police to focus on what really matters to all of us – the crime on our streets.

  • Offcampus Student

    The police problem off campus has been endemic this semester. While it is not stated directly in the article, they have been flagrantly abusing their power to trample on our constitutional rights. There have been several instances when the police have come barging into an apartment over the protests of its inhabitants and begun writing people up for ‘Loud Parties’ – not a legal complaint. Not only is it not a legal complaint, but a ‘loud party’ is not a legally acceptable reason to enter a residence without the residents’ permission, and is especially not a legal reason to do so after being explicitly asked not to. I would ask the University to stand up for and protect its students, and not subject us to such extreme police abuse time and time again. I personally feel extremely violated by the way the police have been acting this semester, and it is not right that students should have to be afraid of the police entering their homes at any time without permission or probable cause.

    When a police officer illegally enters a student’s apartment and writes summonses for the 10 students sitting inside watching TV, it has gone too far. Just because we are students and easily pushed around does not mean that we do not deserve the full protection of the law.