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Students speak out against University City’s zero-tolerance policy at City Council meeting

| Staff Reporter
Sam Guzik | Student Life

Emily Dunn, Wash. U.

“We have felt intimidated and restricted from enjoying our own properties, enjoying any social activities with friends outdoors for fear of police presence and possible citations based on previous experiences.”

Sam Guzik | Student Life

Mondi Ghasedi, U. City

“My yard is not their toilet, our streets are not their bar, our yards are not their dumpster. We are not campus, we are a residential area.”

Nearly 50 students attended a University City City Council meeting on Monday night to express frustration over the increasing frequency of University City Police Department’s enforcement of noise violations.

The students were responding to a rapid rise in citations and arrests of Wash. U. students in recent months as a result of a newly enacted zero-tolerance policy for noise complaints—a policy under which University City police issue a summons whenever they respond to a reported disturbance.

The majority of the noise violations are concentrated in the area north of campus on Kingsbury Boulevard, Washington Avenue and Kingsland Avenue. These streets are shared with University City residents who are not affiliated with the University.

According to Joseph von Kaenel, a resident of the Ames Place neighborhood since 1972, student disruptions have always been a problem in the neighborhood but the issue has come to a head in recent years because student behavior has become increasingly disruptive.

“The situation has gotten worse because there has not been sufficiently rigorous law enforcement,” von Kaenel said.

At the council meeting, seven students presented personal testimony describing occasions when they felt their rights were violated by the police department since the policy was enacted in March. Neighbors countered these stories with their own anecdotes of how they are constantly kept up by noise at all hours of the night.

Seniors Wyatt Crane and Andrew Weisberg decided to mobilize students to make their voices heard and to strike a compromise with the city over what they feel is an extreme zero-tolerance policy.

The students asked the city to appoint a committee of permanent residents and students to review the policy and deal with ongoing relations.

Prior to the meeting, Crane and Weisberg stressed to students in attendance that their stance was not to attack the positions or responsibilities of the mayor’s office, the police department or residents.

“Our position is simply that the zero-tolerance policy bound these officers’ hands and didn’t let them use the discretion they should have been able to use,” Weisberg said. “This is not about bashing UCPD, this is not about bashing the mayor’s office. This is simply showing that we are an organized group, and we should be respected as such, and we should have a voice at the table.”

The students said that while they should be held accountable for unruly and disruptive behavior, they have been issued citations for behavior that was not disorderly.

Emily Dunn, a junior, spoke at the meeting and said that she and her friends were playing Wiffle ball in the lawn of a Washington Avenue apartment at 2 p.m. when the police came and asked them to stop playing because of noise. The police officers searched for suspicious behavior for half an hour before recommending that the group of students disband.

“Although they did acknowledge that there was no illegal behavior going on, [the police] did encourage us to disperse from the area and perhaps relocate indoors silently somewhere,” Dunn said. “We obliged, and as a result, in the past few weeks with beautiful weather outside, we have felt intimidated and restricted from enjoying our own properties, enjoying any social activities with friends outdoors for fear of police presence and possible citations based on previous experiences.”

Dunn added that the zero-tolerance policy has impacted not only students’ social lives but also their “personal privacy.”

Senior Aaron Bodansky said that he and two friends were stopped by a detective on the way to the Delmar Loop for “laughing too loudly” on Melville Avenue at 10 p.m. on a Friday. The detective, according to Bodansky, asked the students to put their hands behind their backs and sit on the sidewalk. The detective then called in two backup police cars and performed full background checks on all of the students.

“I felt threatened. It was scary, I wasn’t able to talk, I was detained for an excessive amount of time,” Bodansky said at the council meeting. “I just wanted to share this with you because I didn’t feel like I had done anything out of line and I felt that the police response due to this new policy has made it very uncomfortable for me to be walking my neighborhood at night.”

But Kingsbury resident Mondi Ghasedi said at the meeting that even laughing and talking on cell phones echo, and disturb her and other residents.

“Walking up the street laughing might not seem like anything to you, but our entire subdivision is composed of brick buildings,” Ghasedi said. “It echoes. You might as well be in my bedroom screaming next to my bed.”

Since its implementation, Ghasedi said, the zero-tolerance policy has been effective in reducing the noise in the area.

“For the first time ever on a warm night I have actually slept through a night on Thursday, Friday or Saturday,” Ghasedi said. “The only thing our police officers are doing is enforcing the law.”

Ghasedi said that when she moved into her home 10 years ago, graduate students filled most of the neighboring occupancies. Now, she says, students urinate on her lawn and vandalize her property.

“My yard is not their toilet, our streets are not their bar, our yards are not their dumpster,” she said. “We are not a campus; we are a residential area.”

It is unclear whether the police incidents that students shared at the meeting were the intentions of the zero-tolerance policy or if these represent aberrant, extreme instances. During the meeting, neither city officials nor Ames Place residents addressed the incidents raised by students, but noted that the police should be commended for doing their job.

After the meeting, however, University City Mayor Joe Adams said that college students are targeted because they fit a profile of individuals with whom problems have been reported in the past. To convey this point, Adams relayed an anecdote of President Barack Obama being stopped by airport security and extensively searched before he was president “just by looking different.”

“It doesn’t make it right or wrong, I’m not saying that,” Adams said. “But that’s just the nature of the beast.”

Cheryl Adelstein, director of community relations at the University, said that although disorderly behavior has been on the increase this year, the perpetrators actually represent only a small portion of the student body. She said she receives two to 10 complaints from neighborhood residents every weekend.

“The levels of vandalism and disrespect seem to be increasing, and I think the residents couldn’t tolerate it anymore,” Adelstein said. “Ultimately I think dialogue needs to happen between the students, police department and the citizens of the neighborhood.”

Although there was no clear resolution by the end of the meeting, the city government expressed openness to dialogue with the students and to the idea of the proposed council. But they stood firm in their position to ensure peace and quiet for the residents.

“I want to thank the police force, police chief and Washington University for enforcing the policy,” Councilman Terry Crow said. “I still believe that the residents have the right to enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes, to raise their kids and to enjoy you as neighbors and to enjoy peace and quiet.”

With additional reporting by Sam Guzik

Sam Guzik | Student Life

Senior Micah Kroeze addresses the University City council Monday night.

  • asainie

    I am a new resident in U-city and last night at 2 AM, people were laughing so loud that I couldn’t sleep. they were in front of my building on the balcony without noticed maybe that the neighborhood was asleep and that most of the people will go to work few hours afterward.

    I called the police and they stopped. It is a shame to be forced to call the Police to see those people (students?) understanding that they are too much noisy..

    But of course when I read some comments here, I am wondering why I was sleeping at 2 AM. Fool I am… it is better to yell, scream and laugh loud….at 2 AM.

  • Hey Mondi Ghasedi: It’s Captain Obvious Calling.

    Mondi Ghasedi:

    My advice to you is not to move to a college area if you don’t like college kids.

    What happened to common sense?

  • elephant man

    You know, one of the main reasons u city is a nice neighborhood to raise a family in is because its next to such a rich university like WashU. Residents here are indirectly benefiting from the money that we pour into the school and the neighborhood, but they seem to forget that when they’re complaining.

    Let’s face it – students are occasionally going to make noise – that much is inevitable. And while I agree that serious noise complaints should be dealt with, the situation is clearly out of hand when people are getting apprehended for LAUGHING TOO LOUD. I mean, are you kidding me? Residents are seriously overreacting and calling the cops so much that it’s literally turning u city into a police state for students.

    Resident of u city, I would ask you to try and see it from our perspective – if the school is buying up property in u city to turn into student housing, then we the hell else are we supposed to live? We can quiet down, but let us enjoy life for crying out loud (haha get it? crying out loud?) But really, you need to check yourself and give us a break

  • a student

    To me, the biggest problem is not students getting busted for having loud parties in their apartments, but the fact that students can spend the night patronizing U. City businesses (generating tax revenue for the city) and then get cited while walking home. Maybe a boycott of U. City bars and restaurants after 10pm might be in order.

    Also, I’d love to see WU’s statistics on complaints they receive, specifically the breakdown by class. I’m willing to bet that most of the noise, vandalism, etc. comes from younger students who don’t actually live in U. City. I doubt most students would vomit all over their own neighborhood.

  • Boyc Ott

    Another incident happened tonight on Kingsbury. I will not speculate what happened because I do not know. However, I propose a boycott of all University City businesses and services. It has just gone too far and Wash U students, who may be the primary patrons of the area, have been harassed and ignored, and this is the only way to implement a change. If I want gas, food, beer, or general entertainment, or anything else rather, I’ll go somewhere else–Richmond Heights, downtown St. Louis, the CWE–anywhere but University City.

  • WashU Student/Former Parkview Resident

    As a current WashU student who grew up in a Parkview residence still owned by my parents after 30 years, I feel I can offer a somewhat unique perspective on the situation.
    @ Parkview resident above: Don’t talk down to us students as if we have no regard for neighbors. I can understand frustration, but some crazy behavior is going to happen. However, stereotyping all students as boorish drunks with no regard for their neighbors is on the same level as me classifying all residents as senile old people with a telescope at the window and the police on speed-dial…the fact remains is that yes, students need to have more respect for neighbors (which is undoubtedly increased by law enforcement), but residents need to simultaneously chill out lest this zero tolerance policy bites back.

    I grew up in a room on the corner of WashAve and Skinker…its not exactly the most quiet location, but if my parents wanted peace and quiet they would have moved to the suburbs. Sirens, music, traffic, and people are a part of city living. My parents wear earplugs at night, but wouldn’t dream of moving anywhere else. Residents need to understand that they live in a city in between a college campus and a bustling entertainment district. While quiet should be expected to an extent late at night, it is utterly unreasonable to have a zero tolerance policy on noise that disables officer discretion. Neighbors need to contact students directly when they want students to keep down the noise at a small party, a barbeque, wiffleball, or any other social activity, and when residents call police on such occurrences, officers should be able to issue a warning and leave with a hint of annoyance at the fact that their time has been wasted on such a minor occurrence. A noise violation and complaint following a large, uncontrolled party? Understandable. Police at a casual backyard barbeque at 6 pm? Utterly insane. If laughter is enough to merit a complaint at 10 pm, and high heeled shoes are THAT disruptive, then you bet you ass that I have the right to call the police regarding your lawn mower when I’m taking a nap or studying for a test. Residents may stereotype WashU students as rich brats, but most of us are actually personally responsible and have to foot legal bills on our own accord. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to pay a $200 fine for a complaint regarding screaming children at an afternoon birthday party…I have less money and I sure as hell don’t want to pay a fine when the level of my noise in my own backyard on Kingsbury is equal to that of the birds chirping outside of your house.
    Do students need to show more respect and be less disruptive? Absolutely. Do residents need to quit complaining about every noise they hear and limit police calls to serious matters? I think so. There needs to be an equilibrium in the student-resident relationship, which is something that cannot happen without compromise.

  • Stan

    Hugh’s right. Wait till the smoking ban is implemented. Then we’ll be flocking off campus!

  • Hugh

    If indeed it is true the Kingsbury area has gotten rowdier in recent years(which I doubt based on personal experience), there seems to me to be a simple explanation.

    Wash U has cracked down significantly on partying on campus, specifically on fraternity row, having in the last few years added many new restrictions. Restrictions such as adding B&D guards at parties, requiring lists of guests, and banning all tables which could be used for drinking games among other things.

    So with campus partying restricted, logically students move more of their partying activities off campus, thus accounting for a possible upswing in neighborhood complaints in recent years.

    Solutions might be either lobby the university to roll back its restrictions, or perhaps try and turn the strict noise ordinances on the other U city residents. IE if you see residents having a get together or bbq in their backyard, call in a noise complaint. Once they are on the receiving end of police action perhaps some support among residents could be built for rolling back the zero tolerance policy

  • wake up

    “…University City Mayor Joe Adams said that college students are targeted because they fit a profile of individuals with whom problems have been reported in the past.”

    “It doesn’t make it right or wrong, I’m not saying that,” Adams said. “But that’s just the nature of the beast.”

    So…Joe Adams says it’s ok (or at least not right or wrong) to profile?

    Does this mean that it would be ok for a loop business owner to ask Mayor Adams not to enjoy the personal freedom of entering his establishment because he is African-American and he “fit a profile of individuals with whom problems have been reported in the past”? Would Joe Adams say that was simply “the nature of the beast”?

    My guess (and hope) is that Mayor Adams would have a little more of a backbone in taking a stand against profiling in that case for the sake of all U City residents.

    A zero tolerance policy might stop the noise in the short term, but the city administration, the law enforcement, and the residents will lose all respect they have with the student population and new students coming in will be warned about the “get off my lawn” mentality north of campus.

    An open dialogue is essential to really solving this issue and I’m glad to see that the council was at least open to the idea, even if it was only as half-hearted as Mayor Adams’ stance on profiling.

  • Parkview resident

    It is a shame that U City’s policy has come to this but frankly the students only have themselves to blame. I know it’s hard to imagine but other people and little kids go to bed before 1am when you walk by my house talking and laughing loudly but innocently and wake up my 4 year old. I know you thought that chair on my front porch would look good on your deck and it did til I came and found it and took it back. I know it’s too much trouble to actuallly wait to get home to pee. Oh and my friends who live behind Rosedale would love it if just once your garbage made it to the dumpster instead of their yard. You want to live like adults but not be responsible to your neighbors? But see that is being an adult- being responsible-even when it’s inconvenient.