Party Patrol gets mixed response near University of Oregon

Of the The Register-Guard

EUGENE — It's 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday at the Fiji fraternity house near the University of Oregon. A noise complaint from neighbors has summoned Eugene and UO police to a loud party in the 600 block of East 16th Avenue.

Officers arrive on bicycles and in patrol cars; they're working the Party Patrol. One knock at the door and students scatter out the back and onto East 16th Alley, where several officers are waiting. They stop the students; some are still holding beer.

“Am I literally getting an MIP right now? I haven't even drank that much!” one teenage girl in the alley protests to an officer, who is writing her a citation for being a minor in possession. The officer tells her that she'll likely qualify for the court's diversion program.

A Fiji fraternity member — formally the Epsilon Omicron Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta — complains about the night's “injustice” as he attempts to record police officers on his iPhone while they issue citations. One problem: His phone's flashlight and timer feature are on; his video camera is not.

Eugene police Lt. Doug Mozan is leading a team of six Eugene police officers and one University of Oregon police officer on the Party Patrol shift, from Friday night, Nov. 18, into early Saturday, Nov. 19, reported The Register-Guard (http://bit.ly/2hub3jm).

The enforcement action is focused in the area around the UO campus, roughly from Franklin Boulevard to East 24th Avenue, and from Mill Street to Agate Street. It sometimes includes the student neighborhoods to the north, across the Willamette River in the Kinsrow Avenue area near Autzen Stadium. Within these borders, for almost 20 years, the patrol has dealt with illegal party-related activities, trying to resolve issues before they get out of hand.

“Our goal is real simple: to prevent sexual assaults, to prevent alcohol overdoses, to prevent riots and to educate the kids about keeping themselves and their belongings safe,” Mozan said. “As a dad, preventing sexual assaults is really important to me. We want these kids to get through all four years without having to go to the ER because they've drank way too much, and without having to come forward and report something that's happened to them. We're not trying to stop people from partying; we're just asking them to party responsibly.”

Since 1997, Eugene police on Party Patrol have maintained a presence in the campus area. Their goal is to let college kids be college kids — safely and legally — while also ensuring that their non-partying neighbors can study, sleep or just live in peace.

Working at overtime pay, the officers patrol the off-campus university neighborhoods, responding to noise complaints, reports of drunken drivers and other revelry-related disturbances.

Some of the Party Patrol activities might overlap with the Eugene police officers who regularly patrol in the campus area. But those patrol officers, whose focus is first on crimes that endanger lives and property, don't always have the time to break up a rowdy group or check IDs for liquor law violations. That's the Party Patrol's job.

The Party Patrol is expensive to taxpayers. The highest-paid Eugene police department officers each receive $83.54 an hour on the patrol.

Party Patrol is crucial given the track record of student parties ruining neighborhoods, said Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns.

“There are three reasons why a police department like ours, in cities with universities, need to invest so much into the neighborhoods near campus,” Kerns said. The first reason, he said, is the high volume of calls police receive from neighbors whenever loud, disorderly behavior is bothering them or making them feel unsafe. The second reason, he said, “is partially related to that, in that the West University neighborhood, over the last 40 years, has become one that's exclusively occupied by students. That's driven by the market, the residential rental market, and the consequence of growth.”

Kerns said the loud and disorderly parties in neighborhoods like the West University neighborhood have caused homeowners to move out because they don't want to live in a place that's so disruptive. So their homes become rentals, Kerns said, and students move in.

“The other university neighborhoods have fears that this could happen to their beautiful, well maintained homes on beautiful streets,” Kerns said. “They like the environment near campus but they don't want the nature of it to change, so we try to manage the behavior so it doesn't change the nature of the neighborhood.”

The third reason, Kerns said, is more serious. A potential for danger lies in parties where minors are consuming alcohol and sexual assaults are known to have occurred at poorly managed parties, Kerns said.

UO police participate

An officer from the University of Oregon Police Department is often along on Party Patrol, and Mozan, who heads the Party Patrol operation, says he is thankful for UOPD's help. He thinks maybe one day the university's police department will take over the responsibility.

“Why not?” Mozan said. “They're an emerging player in this game. UOPD is definitely feeling its ability to respond to stuff off campus, and they're doing a phenomenal job of broadening their reach to the student body off campus. They're really helping us — they've always been helping us — in knowing who is a student and who isn't, helping us hold people accountable when they are a student, when they goof off, off-campus. And now they're realizing they can be of greater assistance to us off-campus.”

But for the UOPD, campus will remain its main patrol area, and its role in Party Patrol will remain a supporting one, said Kelly McIver, the spokesman for the university's police department.

“There is no current plan for UOPD to take over Party Patrol, and doing so completely is unlikely, given that there aren't plans for UOPD to have a significantly larger staff,” McIver said. “UOPD's primary focus is campus safety and response, and off-campus projects such as Party Patrol can't happen at the expense of adequate staffing for the core mission. However, UOPD does currently participate in partnership with Eugene Police on Party Patrol.”

UOPD officer Adam Lillengreen said the UOPD can — and does — refer students to the Dean of Student's Office — or DOS — for violations of school policy. That office has a range of penalties, up to and including expulsion.

“Over the last year or two, DOS has extended the student conduct code to off-campus properties. I've found DOS referrals to be a great enforcement tool and a good alternative or supplement to other court processes,” Lillengreen said.

And Mozan commended UOPD's actions during the reaction that followed the Nov. 8 election of Donald Trump as president, when crowds of UO students and faculty took to the street, carrying signs and chanting.

“When these protests happened, they started on campus, and they ended up downtown in the Free Speech Plaza, they were bracketed by UOPD cars; and it was a thing of beauty,” Mozan said. "They did a phenomenal job of helping us build trust with the protest organizers and keep traffic out of their hair, and frankly help do part of our job, because we didn't have endless bodies to respond to these things. So it was really cool to have their help.

“Similarly, (UOPD officers are) participating in Party Patrol because it allows them to know what's going on off campus, and their officer out with us tonight can use the student conduct code instead of the Eugene Municipal Code to hold people accountable, if he wants to.”

Fraternity cited

Lillengreen was the UOPD officer who took part in the Nov. 18-19 Party Patrol, when the Fiji fraternity was issued a prohibited-noise citation, a citation for allowing minors to consume alcohol on private premises and a citation for having an unruly gathering. That last ticket is authorized by a city ordinance that allows officers to issue an additional citation if more than one law is being broken at a party, such as urinating in public, assault, disorderly conduct and the like.

The more “unruly gathering” citations that someone racks up, the higher the fine. Property owners can be held responsible for response costs after four unruly gathering citations — an incentive to either evict tenants who are repeat offenders, or to take disciplinary action of their own.

“An unruly gathering citation is like a disease; it's like Hepatitis C. You can't get rid of it, and the symptoms are just going to get worse. It's stuck on you,” Mozan explained to the Fiji party's two hired security officers, who were contracted by the party hosts to make sure that only girls and fraternity members were allowed into the party.

Guards are hired sometimes because hosts think it gives a party legitimacy, Mozan said. But hiring their own private security guards won't keep the party hosts out of trouble if the guards aren't checking IDs or keeping the noise down — two of the violations that led to the citations early Saturday, Nov. 19.

From 10 p.m. Friday until 3 a.m. that Saturday, police cited 19 underage drinkers for being a minor in possession of alcohol. One person was given a warning for having an open container; four were issued warnings for traffic violations and three received warnings for noise violations. University of Oregon police issued nine student referrals instead of citations for open container, for minors in possession of alcohol or both.

The Fiji fraternity was the only party host to receive an “unruly gathering” citation during the Nov. 18-19 patrol. Officers had been called to that location in the past, records show, just the month before.

“Party Patrol positively impacts students and the community they live in,” Lillengreen said. “It allows for ongoing education, specifically with regards to having responsible parties and reverence toward neighbors and the laws of the city.”

Patrol has significant cost

Lillengreen said that while he's on Party Patrol, he's accustomed to making quick adjustments to fulfill his main obligation — campus safety.

“I worked a party patrol one evening, and the only two UOPD officers working campus both got separate arrests, which required them to go to jail at the same time,” Lillengreen said. “I had to pull myself off of party patrol so campus wasn't left vacant.”

Still, for the people who live on the streets where the Party Patrol does most of its work, the patrol's presence can mean the difference between a night's sleep and a night's frustration.

Mozan said that the South University Neighborhood Association has been helpful in meeting with police and suggesting ways to prevent their streets and yards from becoming a fringe-party ground.

“We absolutely support the efforts of the police,” SUNA chairwoman Nancy Meyer said regarding Party Patrol. “We know the police (are doing) all they can.”

But protecting neighborhoods from noise and rowdy behavior comes at a premium cost.

The Party Patrol does not have a budget line in the police department's annual budget, and no officers are assigned to it on a regular basis. Mozan said that police department administrators have asked him to keep the Party Patrol's spending to around $50,000 this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2017.

In 2014 and 2015, Mozan was able to spend as much as $93,000 on Party Patrol, thanks in part to a $20,000 grant from Lane County as part of its Mental Health Substance Abuse Prevention program. But that grant no longer is available, he said, so Party Patrol funding again comes solely from the police department's general fund.

Between July 2015 and July 2016, the Party Patrol worked 732 hours, at a cost of $61,157.

According to Mozan, the highest-paid, most senior officer in the department made $76.86 an hour in the 2015-16 fiscal year working overtime on party patrol. This year, the most senior officer is paid $83.57 an hour.

Schedule not set in stone

This school year, the Party Patrol was on duty Sept. 16, Sept. 22, Oct. 7, Oct. 15, Oct. 20, Oct. 28, and Nov. 18, during various UO events such as move-in week for the students, a bye week for the Ducks, and the weekend before Halloween.

“We think, ‘Is it a home game weekend?’ ‘Is it a night game?’ ‘Is it a holiday?’” Mozan said. “Halloween, we knew there were going to be droves of people in costume out, so we tried to have a heavy presence to let people know police were around.”

Mozan said that while Friday and Saturday generally are the busiest nights for the patrol, he recently became aware of the “Thirsty Thursday phenomenon,” which has added another night that the Party Patrol might be at work.

There is no set list of how many weekends or which weekends Party Patrol will be scheduled.

May and October traditionally are the busiest months for parties around the campus. Last year, when April was unseasonably warm, the parties started early, he said.

The next party patrols are not likely to occur again until the spring term, with the number of parties historically spiking around the campus in May and June. That said, according to Mozan, the schedule is not set in stone.

“We let data and behavior inform our deployment decisions,” he said.


Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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