Operation Student Shield
By Tim Stoddard
As the city of Boston continues to crack down on raucous student behavior in off-campus neighborhoods, Mayor Thomas Menino and Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole have announced a new citywide initiative modeled largely after Boston University’s successful efforts to curb student misbehavior in the Allston-Brighton area.
Meeting with administrators from BU and other local universities on January 6, Menino (Hon.’01) and O’Toole said that under Operation Student Shield, police patrols will enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward public drinking, loud parties, and vandalism. Boston courts will impose stiffer penalties on students who are arrested, and the police are asking for help from colleges and universities to sternly discipline students who misbehave off campus.
“If a student acts up off campus, it’s very important that the university stands behind us,” says Police Captain William Evans, district commander for Allston-Brighton, who will serve as academic liaison of the new program. “Working with the different institutions — especially BC and BU — I think we’ve made tremendous progress.”
Evans has worked closely with administrators at Boston University and Boston College over the past six years to curtail unruly behavior in Allston and Brighton. Central to this effort has been BU’s long-standing Ride-Along Program, where a University administrator accompanies a police officer patrolling student neighborhoods looking for signs of parties and drinking. When police have to break up wild parties, the administrator talks with any BU students causing problems, and files a report with the dean of students for possible punishment.
Joseph Walsh, director of community relations in the Office of Government and Community Affairs, has gone on many ride-alongs, and is also out on the streets in Allston-Brighton during move-in week every fall, welcoming students and parents and educating them about the consequences of inappropriate behavior. The program is working, he says, in large part because BU is one of the only schools in Boston that alerts parents to student misbehavior. “If I come in Monday morning with a police report that says a BU student caused a disruption,” he says, “the parents are notified immediately, which the majority of schools do not do. Students are called in for a hearing and sanctions range from deferred suspension to expulsion, and the kids take that pretty seriously.”
The deterrent has worked. When Walsh came to the University in 1997, BU students were responsible for the majority of the complaints received by Boston police every year. Since then, the total number of 911 calls for public disturbances by students has remained constant at about 200 a year, Walsh says, but BU students are now involved in only about 25 percent of the complaints received by the Brighton district police station annually.
Walsh attributes this improving trend in part to increased on-campus housing at BU. Since the opening of the Student Village residence hall in 2000, about 900 fewer students are looking for off-campus housing every year. The problem, he says, is that students from other institutions that don’t have official policies for enforcing off-campus misbehavior are now moving into the neighborhoods vacated by BU students.
The goal in Operation Student Shield is to help other Boston area universities learn from BU’s strict enforcement policies and also its efforts to prevent student misbehavior in the first place. “It’s important, too, to understand that this leadership not only deals with enforcement,” says Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore. “We’ve got to educate our students to be responsible members of the communities where they live.”
At the beginning of every academic year, Evans gives a short presentation to all incoming freshmen outlining the consequences of inappropriate and illegal behavior. Offending students receive a range of nonacademic punishments in Brighton District Court, such as fines, community service, and mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous. Elmore’s office is in close correspondence with students and their parents throughout the year, sending e-mails and letters reminding students to exercise caution and behave appropriately during peak party season, which usually occurs in September, October, April, and May.
It’s not clear yet how Operation Student Shield will take form, but it’s likely that BU administrators will play a significant role in advising other universities’ officials on how to implement better off-campus policies. Without describing the specifics of the program, O’Toole says its success hinges upon the kind of close collaboration BU has had with Boston police in the past. “We’ve certainly learned that the police alone can’t tackle this problem,” she says. “The only way to make a difference and create a safer community is to involve the colleges and universities, the courts, and the students themselves. We look forward to involving the students in our next meeting, and to hear their feedback and suggestions.”