September 12, 2008

IPD Attributes Rise in Tickets to New Policy

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The Collegetown Neighborhood Council met yesterday afternoon in the basement of St. Luke’s to discuss an increase in the number of noise and open container violations recently issued by the Ithaca Police Department in Collegetown.
Neighborhood Council co-chairs Gary Stewart, deputy director of Cornell’s Office of Community Relations, and Mary Tomlan (D-3rd Ward) led the meeting. 15 other people attended, including representatives of the Ithaca and Cornell police departments, Collegetown landlords and concerned Cornell students.
The first issue tackled was whether or not there had actually been an increase in the number of noise and open container tickets issued.
Acting Ithaca Police Chief Ed Vallely explained that there have been 698 tickets issued thus far this year, compared with 305 tickets issued during 2006 and 480 tickets issued during 2007. He explained that this increase in the number of tickets issued does not mean that there has been an increase in the number of students ticketed.[img_assist|nid=31626|title=Noisy neighbors|desc=College Ave. (shown above) and other streets of Collegetown have been targets of noise violations this year.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The increase reflects a new policy promoted by the District Attorney to issue multiple tickets to a single violator rather than to only ticket violators for their most egregious offense,” he said, calling the number of tickets issued this year “business as usual.”
Discussion followed regarding the efficacy of the current noise and alcohol violation codes and the need for balance in Collegetown, which houses a large student population but also has many non-student residents.
Lauren Wein ’09 expressed frustration with the current state of affairs.
“My biggest concern at this point is that overall student morale at Cornell is that students don’t trust the Ithaca Police Department,” she said. “I think that if we continue on the current path, students might be afraid to call the police in event of a serious problem.”
Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) agreed that student-police relations are dysfunctional at the moment.
“There is all this talk about reasonable noise, reasonable parties and reasonable times for parties,” he said, “but students have their own lifestyle and I think that the enforcement of these [codes] feels arbitrary to us, like our lifestyle isn’t being respected.”
Both Wein and Myrick expressed concern that the current noise code, which mandates community service and fines of $100 – $500 for first offenses and $200 – $750 for second offenses, is overly harsh. Both also stated that the fact that it allows police to issue noise tickets without any complaints from neighbors was a problem.
“I think that students feel like they’re being picked on and that it’s being done in an uneven way … we need to open up lines of communication and tell students more specifically what is, and is not, acceptable,” Wein said.
Some of the older community members present recalled times when Collegetown was a much more dangerous and unruly place.
“I’m the longest-serving officer in Ithaca, and I’ve seen Collegetown completely out of control, with near-riot conditions and older citizens outraged. The new ticketing procedures have resulted in a dramatic reduction in citizen complaints to the Chief’s office,” Vallely said.
Tomlan agreed with Vallely, explaining that a few years ago she became accustomed to phoning the police about nearby noise violations almost every weekend, but she has not made such a call in the past two or three years.
Kyle Couchman, property manager for Po Reality, also spoke appreciatively of the recent crackdown on student noise and alcohol abuse.
“This tough policy is a way of establishing that students still have responsibilities, and it gives landlords another tool to use in dealing with uncooperative residents,” he said.
Various solutions to the problem of noise and other disturbances in Collegetown were discussed.
One of the most talked-about ideas to emerge during the meeting was a proposal to offer a “Living Off-Campus” orientation program at the beginning of each semester, during which Cornell students would be quickly and specifically briefed about their rights and responsibilities regarding noise, alcohol, parties and parking.
Stewart suggested that such a program might be offered through the newly established Office of Off-Campus Housing.
Still, it became clear at the meeting that the intractable issues discussed will probably remain unresolved in the near future. The meeting also provided evidence of a clear dividing line between students living in Collegetown and non-students living in Collegetown, with each group adamant about its own rights and angry at the other group.
As Myrick noted, such a situation certainly does not bode well for town-gown relations.
“I think that students hate the city of Ithaca right now,” he said, “… and we wonder why they don’t give back to the community in more ways.”