By Matt Crowley/The AS Review
For some students, college is as much about partying as it is about education. The return of students to Bellingham in late September not only signals the beginning of a new school year but the beginning of a new year of parties, dances, concerts and adventures. But when Western Wednesday hits, the police are also on students’ minds.
Parties, whether they are held in the dorms, an apartment or a house, can get out of hand, and that’s usually when the police get involved. For a minor, the thought of police intervention is not only a bummer, it’s scary as well. According to the Bellingham Police Department, a minor in possession, or MIP, charge can carry a maximum $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail, although such cases are usually unheard of.
It may be surprising to hear, however, that police aren’t out to get students. When a party gets busted, it’s usually because of a noise complaint rather than underage drinking, although the two often go hand in hand.
“That’s usually what we get the calls for: the noise,” Bellingham Police Officer Jeff Yoder said. “If you have 20 people drinking and you’re being quiet, we’re not going to bother you.”
On Oct. 20, the Campus Community Coalition held a discussion to help students, police and community members communicate with one another about living together in Bellingham. The CCC was founded in 1999 by then-President Karen Morse to help address problems related to student drinking but has since expanded to include issues related to the community as a whole. The coalition is led by Lara Welker; the student-run branch, the Viking Community Builders, also an Associated Students club, is coordinated by Kaylee Knowles.
Not surprisingly, partying was one of the major topics at the discussion. One of the first questions asked was what issues come up when students and long-term community members are neighbors.
“Noise. Parties. Trash,” said community member Kirsti Charlton. Charlton lives in the York neighborhood, an area with an almost equal mix of longtime community members and students. While Charlton says she enjoys living in a college town among students, the noise and trash that accompanies parties in her neighborhood can be bothersome.
Noise isn’t the only problem parties bring. Parking can cause police intervention as well.
“We get a lot of calls for parking,” Yoder said. “Houses with only a few people living in them can get crowded during parties and cause parking problems.”
After highlighting many of the problems that exist in local communities, possible solutions were addressed as well. When dealing with noise, law enforcement recommends limiting the number of people at the party.
“If you have 40 to 50 people at a party trying to talk over each other, the noise will be amplified. That, combined with music and people coming in and out, can really be a problem,” said Yoder.
Keeping people indoors can help with noise, an issue that can arise when students throw “around the world” parties, where multiple neighboring homes throw parties with varying themes so students can go from one house to the next.
The CCC also stresses neighbor-to-neighbor communication. By exchanging contact information and keeping each other informed, neighbors can let one another know when noise becomes bothersome. Communication can also be used to bridge the gap between students and older residents, who may carry false preconceptions about each other.
“I feel like my neighbors stereotype us because we’re students,” said sophomore Alexandrea MacIndoe.
Ultimately, neighbors must learn to respect one another. By limiting the amount of noise and trash that comes as the result of parties, neighbors can build a positive relationship that prevents the need for police intervention and possible punishment.
As for students and police, the number one thing to remember is to be cooperative.
“If you’re going to be cooperative we’re not going to get you into too much trouble,” Yoder said.
For more information on the Campus Community Coalition, search for them on the Western Washington University Web site or contact Laura Welker at Lara.Welker@wwu.edu. For more information on Viking Community Builders, search for them on Facebook or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. VCB meets Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the Underground Coffeehouse and will be holding a Sehome neighborhood trash clean up on Nov. 7 and 12.