Building a better community

Kelly Byer

Although community tension is nothing new, recent attempts at reconciling the city and campus might be making an impact.

“As a result of more conversation, more dialogue, more working together by city and university, we’re really overcoming a tremendous amount of issues that were problems before,” University Police Chief John Peach said.

Trust between the city and university police departments has improved, and Peach said police established a protocol last year of referring off-campus misconduct to Judicial Affairs.

At the start of next year, Peach said a joint patrol is planned for areas near campus that are primarily student housing. The patrol will begin on a trial basis because it would require additional officers, and the departments will determine if the investment is worthwhile.

“We want to be working as a team, the city and the university, to make the residence stronger, more vibrant and more attractive,” Peach said. “Conduct has a lot to do with that.”

Joel Coll, senior flight technology major, said one question is what defines disorderly conduct because it could mean one thing to students and another to police.

Police look at public intoxication and resulting actions like spitting, insulting or fighting as examples of unacceptable behavior, Lt. Jayme Cole of the Kent Police Department said.

“There’s seven or so subsections of disorderly conduct, but it really comes down to common sense in that, if you are behaving in a manner that impacts your neighbor or other people in the crowd negatively, then you’re being disorderly,” Cole said.

Peach said student mentality has changed slightly in recent years, with a college attitude that certain behaviors are OK if they don’t hurt anyone.

“From my perspective, there’s a higher sense of entitlement,” he said.

Peach said people don’t think they have to deal with consequences because they don’t see the harm of their actions.

“There was a time when people knew that if they were doing something wrong and they knew the police were coming, they would stop or be out of there,” he said. “Now it’s not so usual. Now they just wait, especially if there’s numbers of them, and confront the police.”

But Peach said problems related to student drinking, such as noise and misconduct, disturb families with children or the elderly. He said students should imagine living next to people who disrespect their peace or security.

“We try to think that we’d be civil neighbors and be able to be tolerant at the same time, but when there’s such excessive behavior that is well below civil standards and violating the law, you can’t expect the citizens of Kent to be tolerant,” he said.

Regardless of the challenges posed when large groups gather at parties, Cole said the goal is still keeping people safe.

“We don’t get to pick and chose who we protect, nor would we want to,” he said.

Students as a group, Cole said, don’t typically react differently to law enforcement than the general population.

“It doesn’t matter if a person dealing with law enforcement is a student or not, nobody likes having enforcement action taken against them,” Cole said.

Sophomore pharmacy major Tom Barracato said some students could have a better relationship with police, but in general, the relationship is satisfactory.

“The students respect the police; police respect some of the students,” Barracato said. “I mean, unless they know you by name almost.”

Dominic Gatti, graduate student in cultural anthropology, said relations could improve if police were more approachable. He said the majority are condescending.

“That’s the way they portray themselves,” Gatti said.

Cole said the relationship between city police and students is nonexistent because of a high turnover rate and lack of interest.

“There is a new batch of students every year, in and out,” he said. “And there isn’t the time, nor I believe the desire on the part of the students, to have a relationship with the police.”

Cole said both are two big, diverse groups unlikely to form a relationship.

“You tell me what a relationship between those two groups looks like, and if there’s something worthwhile to be had out of trying that,” Cole said. “We’re certainly interested in making this a better place. It’s a feel-good topic, but the reality is that you’re talking about concepts and not something that is a reality now, or likely to be one.”

Sophomore biotechnology major Alyssa Johnston said she thinks every group has its good and bad.

“I think it’s kind of ingrained in everyone like cats and dogs that the college students aren’t going to get along with the police, and the police are like, ‘Oh, it’s just these stupid college students and all they want to do is drink,'” Johnston said.

But Peach said he thinks a better relationship between communities, police and students is possible. He said they are working toward building character, which is part of creating a good neighborhood.

“I think the relationship between the city and the university is very good now,” Peach said. “It can always improve, and that’s to be understood, but as to where it was two years ago versus where it is now, it is extraordinarily improved.”

Contact enterprise reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected].