September is nearing a close and we have had about a month with Westfield State University back in session. As with every year, 25% of the university population is experiencing their first time living away from home, away from the direct supervision of parents. The other returning students are eager to see friends they have not seen in three months. With this often comes some disruptive behavior, often in the downtown neighborhoods of our city.
First, it is important to note that there are almost six thousand students attending Westfield State University. It is a safe estimate to say that we as police officers are dealing with probably the same three hundred to four hundred students attending parties and sometimes making poor decisions each weekend. Much the same way police officers don’t like to be painted with a broad brush when an officer somewhere does something he or she shouldn’t have, we try not to paint all college students with that brush when a few of them act poorly.
This article is not to justify, or in any way condone the activity of students (or anyone else) who acts in a way that disrupts an otherwise peaceful neighborhood, but it is an effort to inform people of the steps the police department takes to prevent and address this behavior. On numerous occasions people have posted on social media or told officers that the police don’t do anything to stop this behavior. Keep in mind, there may be things we CAN’T do, but please understand, we do everything we can.
Starting in September officers go door to door at every off campus college house we are aware of with an informational packet welcoming college students and outlining expectations . This gives us the opportunity to meet new residents in a positive setting but also outline behavior that will and will not be tolerated.
Each year in June, Westfield State invites the Westfield Police Department to address freshmen at freshman orientation. Again, this gives us an opportunity to share information and expectations in an attempt to prevent disruptive behavior. We do the same address with many of the WSU sports teams in the fall.
Westfield has a landlord group that meets monthly. At these meeting the police and other property specialists work with our landlords and property managers to provide assistance, make recommendations for lease agreements, discuss options for problem tenants, and other suggestions.
Each year for the past five years we have received a grant from the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to be spent specifically on combating under age alcohol consumption. The vast majority of this money is spent hiring officers on overtime for extra patrols on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In September of 2017 alone officers working these details have written over $5000 in citations, confiscated numerous fake ID’s, shut down many parties, and made several arrests. As part of this grant, but also as part of officer’s regular patrol duties, they actively seek out and make notifications at college houses PRIOR to complaints when a possible gathering is identified. This again gives us the opportunity to have a positive contact with students and prevent neighbors being disturbed by future tumultuous behavior.
The WPD has worked with the city to establish and amend ordinances pertaining to alcohol, to noise and most recently a nuisance house ordinance. These ordinances, along with state law, give officers many enforcement options when dealing with disturbances and other related activity.
When there are large disturbances involving off campus students, letters are sent home to parents to make them aware of the activity taking place in the apartment they are most likely funding either as a co-signer, or a silent partner. Along with parent notifications, letters and phone calls are also made to landlords when any issue arises at their property. In extreme cases we are able to force an eviction underMassachusetts General Law Chapter 139 sections 19 and 20. Notifications are also made to WSU Judicial affairs, public safety, and the director of athletics when students are involved in any off campus incidents
Alcohol compliance checks are routinely made on all package stores, bars, and restaurants, again as a result of the grants we receive from Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Reverse stings are done outside package stores in which officers wait for people to purchase alcohol for others under 21, or to identify those with fake ID’s who are attempting to purchase alcohol. We also routinely check ID’s in local bars to make sure no one has gotten past security who is under 21.
If and when criminal charges are filed against a student, we work with the courts to come to the best possible resolution for the neighborhood residents, the city, and the student.
This is not an exhaustive list of the undertakings of the police department. We work very hard to make our city an enjoyable and peaceful place to live, work, and play. As part of this commitment, we usually suggest that students and residents take a walk to your neighbor’s house and introduce yourself. Shaking a student’s hand and welcoming them to the neighborhood makes you a real person, and vice versa. It is much more difficult to be a nuisance neighbor when you know they are a good person as opposed to “that guy who always calls the cops”.
The Westfield Police Department will continue to work with the University, local officials, businesses, students, and residents to improve this or any situation in our city. If there is a problem, or if you would just like to tell us what a good job we are doing, please call us and we will do everything we can to help.