University of Rhode Island students living off-campus in Narragansett this academic year can expect some changes in response to a May 3 party in popular student neighborhood, Eastward Look, that will force the town and university to cooperate towards stricter rules and heavier enforcement of student disturbances.
A combination of end of the semester excitement, social media and “a few people’s bad judgement,” according to Narragansett Chief of Police Dean Hoxsie, turned the neighborhood, specifically Greene Lane, into the scene of what Town Manager Pamela Nolan called a riot.
“The street literally filled in behind the officers,” Hoxsie said.
Estimates of the parties attendance range from 800 to 1,000 students, and 22 police cruisers and a K9 unit responded to arrest 18 people on scene.
“Missiles being thrown through the air, in the shape of beer bottles,” Â Nolan said. “That’s where the term riot came out. I mean, what else can you call it?”
Residents fumed during a Town Council meeting just two days later, calling for increased enforcement by the town as well as criticizing the university for not being involved enough in student’s off-campus affairs. But Nolan said the majority of the public doesn’t see URI’s judicial process or understand the lengths the university goes to to regulate their students. “I think it’s really impressive,” Nolan said.
The meeting prompted the council to quickly and unanimously increase the fines for disturbing the peace, urinating or defecating in public, consuming of alcoholic beverages, unlawful possession or consumption and public nuisance to between $200 and $500, minimum.
The Town Council also reestablished a committee comprised of town and university officials, as well as residents, responsible for curbing these issues. A nearly 10 year old idea, these coalitions were responsible for enacting the town’s “sticker” ordinance, which brands nuisance properties with orange stickers. The threshold for enforcing this law and applying stickers to residences will be lower, this year.
Along with serving as an avenue of communication between the town and university, the new committee will be charged largely with toughening up the town’s ordinances. Â Nolan believes that this new committee will make a difference in regulating student misdemeanors.
“New people at the table bring new ideas and a new look at things,” Nolan said.
Homeowners and rental agencies can expect to be asked to help solve the issue this fall as well.
“The landlords have got to be more responsible,” Nolan said. “We have got to get them to the table.”
Greene Lane, where the May 3 incident was centered, is composed entirely of rental homes, something Nolan says she has never seen. Many homeowners do not live locally and are not aware of issues that take place, a fact that many full-time residents take issue with.
But according to Hoxsie, the property owner and the renter are “jointly and inseverably responsible” for what happens on the property, and the town plans to utilize its Cost Recovery Ordinance, more often beginning this fall, to attempt to involve homeowners to a greater degree. Under the ordinance, in addition to the renter, the homeowners will now also be issued a letter warning them after an incident and during any “substantial disturbance” they can even be billed, by the town, for the cost of responding to it.
Beginning this fall, the police department will also have one officer assigned specifically to party complaints, responsible for personally meeting with students and following up on issues. “We’re going to really try to educate,” Hoxsie said.
Hoxsie also stressed the importance of students knowing who comes in their homes. Police are frequently called for missing or stolen items from houses after parties and after winter break, something he attributes to unknown visitors in crowds. High school students and even gang members from Providence have been known to frequent college parties in Narragansett and in other towns surrounding URI. The simplest solution to this problem and to avoiding police visits from overcrowding, according to Hoxsie? “If you don’t know them, don’t let them in!”