December 2, 2008

Students, Administrators and City Officials Meet, Discuss Local Tensions

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In an effort to address the tense student-police relations in Collegetown regarding the City of Ithaca Noise Ordinance, Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson assembled a group to discuss the issue. In attendance were Ed Vallely, the new Ithaca Police Chief, Nancy Schuler (D-4th Ward), Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward), Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) and Student Assembly President Ryan Lavin ’09.
According to Peterson, she called the meeting after Lavin ’09,came to a Common Council meeting to address the problems with the noise ordinance and deteriorating student-police relations.
According to the City of Ithaca Noise Ordinance, a noise violation can be issued when a party or social event produces disruptive noise that carries at least 25 feet.
Lavin said that this year in particular, the noise ordinance has resulted in “an increased feeling of enforcement,” leaving students in Collegetown feeling “vulnerable and defenseless.”
Myrick explained that this year, police have issued tickets to each individual who lives in a residence that has violated the noise ordinance, anyone holding an open container, anyone engaging in disorderly conduct and so on.
According to Lavin, the city prosecutor recommended this strict enforcement in order to deter future disruptions and prevent students from getting out of citations in court by claiming that they do not live in a residence, or that they were just holding water instead of alcohol.
As a result of this more aggressive enforcement of the noise ordinance, complaints among permanent Collegetown residents have decreased, but complaints among students have spiked.
The goal of this meeting, Lavin said, was to seek a way in which “we can satisfy all members of the community.”
Rather than trying to change the law, which would take a long time, Lavin hopes instead that the IPD will change their enforcement, and thereby improve relationships between police officers and students.
“We want to be pre-emptive,” he said, and come up with a solution that is “mutually beneficial” where students can hold themselves more accountable.
With this goal in mind, people at the meeting discussed the idea of a standing committee that would include students, Ithaca city officials, representatives from the IPD and officials from the University.
The goal is to create more “face-to-face time” between students and police officials, Lavin said, so that there can be open dialogue and student involvement in police enforcement in Collegetown.
Another issue regarding the noise ordinance is the fact that many students believe in a myth that noise permits are rarely approved.
In fact, Peterson said that she was surprised that students do not apply more for noise permits.
“It’s a rare occurrence to deny [a permit],” she said. The mayor estimated that approximately 98 percent of permits are signed.
“It’s a clear issue of misunderstandings,” she said, “and that’s an indicative reason why its good to have continuing meetings.”
Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, thought that the meeting was very helpful and that the standing committee was an interesting solution to the current problems.
“Now we can work together to minimize the number of tickets created and avoid a climate that doesn’t permit normal celebratory activity,” he said.
“The most important thing is going forward,” Peterson said. “We are setting up a way for regular discourse between affected residents in Collegetown and the police department.”
“We’re up to the challenge,” Myrick said.
New Chief of Police Ed Vallely could not be reached for comment.