City hearing more about student parties

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 06:14 PM

It’s August, so Duke University is back in session. And with that comes another round of complaints from close-to-campus neighborhoods about loud, late-night student partying.
The latest such outbreak occurred earlier this week in the Trinity Heights and Trinity Park neighborhoods, leading city police to hand out tickets to the occupants of two rental houses alleging violations of the city’s noise ordinance.
Those may wind up being just the first party-related tickets of the fall semester.
The Durham Police Department is mounting extra patrols this weekend in District 2 to “monitor noise violations and alcohol violations’ in the Trinity Heights, Trinity Park and Walltown neighborhoods, said Assistant Police Chief Ed Sarvis, its newly minted commander of Northside operations.
All three neighborhoods are close to East Campus, and have been party-complaint hotspots over the years.
But city, police and Duke officials spent their summer pondering complaints from a different quarter, neighborhoods like Morehead Hill and Burch Avenue closer to Duke’s West Campus.
“It does seem to bounce from neighborhood to neighborhood,” City Councilman Steve Schewel, a Duke alumnus and visiting professor, said of the party problem.
Despite the tickets, it’s not at all clear residents in Trinity Heights are satisfied with the city’s response to date.
One, David Bowden, forwarded to elected officials an email from a neighbor that objected to an “all too obvious hands-off double standard that allows [partiers] to roam with minimal interference.”
Dealing with the issue, however, is not without risk for the city government.
Advocates for the Duke lacrosse players targeted in 2006 by a stripper’s false accusations of rape argued, from early on in that controversy, that the Police Department pursued an obviously flimsy case to further a crackdown on Trinity Park’s party-house scene.
The resulting civil litigation from members of Duke’s men’s lacrosse team wound up costing the city and its insurers more than $6 million in legal fees and was only resolved this year.
But Duke is hardly the Triangle’s only major university. Elsewhere in the region, noise- and alcohol-law enforcement targeting college students is routine.
Local and state authorities in Chapel Hill typically try to set a tone for students at UNC early in a new academic year by making a point of looking for underage-drinking and fake-ID violations.
In Raleigh, around N.C. State University, police cracked down hard in the late 1990s and early 2000s on a beginning-of-the-school-year party scene in the Brent Road area, arresting scores of students. N.C. State’s then-chancellor and her administration actively encouraged and cooperated with that police action.
UNC and N.C. State are public schools that, by policy, draw more than 80 percent of their students from North Carolina. Historically, administrators at UNC at least have been able to count on parent and alumni support for any attack on underage drinking.
And of late, they’re also facing high-level political pressure to deal with the issue.
Gov. Pat McCrory has labeled collegiate substance abuse one of his priority issues. And a white paper appended to a recent campus-safety report to the UNC system’s Board of Governors said UNC schools should “publicly support” the state law that sets the minimum drinking age at 21.
It also said each school should work with law enforcement to see that drinking and drug laws are enforced consistently, on the theory that “swift and sure responses serve well as deterrents to future incidents.”
Duke, by contrast, is a private university that draws much of its student body from out of state. And since the lacrosse case, it’s been far from certain the Duke administration can count on the same level of parent and alumni support for action against partying.
School President Richard Brodhead has said the no-drinking-before-21 law – which mirrors federal policy – is “not an effective solution to the problem.”
But “there’s a lot of feeling in the neighborhoods that Duke needs to do more, that Duke needs to take more responsibility for [disciplining] their students who are living off campus,” Schewel said.
Judging from council email, there’s also a lot of skepticism that Duke actually will.
A Morehead Avenue resident, Duke University Libraries fundraiser Kurt Cumiskey, wrote Schewel in June to say he suspects the school’s dean of students, Sue Wasiolek, is not “a real partner for homeowners.”
The dean and her staff prefer to kick the can down the road each year for fear of having to answer to “angry parents wanting to know why the university is treating their sons so unfairly,” Cumiskey told Schewel.
Wasiolek’s boss, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta, is reputedly more willing to “handle the issue swiftly and without coddling the students,” Cumiskey said.
He added that it’s in Duke’s best interest to do that.
“I expect the students to act like knuckleheads, I expect the landlord to claim it’s not his responsibility,” he said. “But I expect the police to cite when appropriate and the university to take the long view: If our neighbors continue to leave or consider leaving the area (and, believe me, this is a topic of discussion at our neighborhood get-togethers), the area around the university will become a blight.”