In an effort to crack down on what many Westchester homeowners say are out-of-control parties in their neighborhoods, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and the Pacific division of the Los Angeles Police Department have announced a set of initiatives designed to reduce and discourage unruly behavior by students off campus.
At a community meeting in the Living Room of the Malone Student Center on the LMU campus February 7th, Hampton Cantrell, LMU public safety chief, gave a small audience of homeowners who live near the university an update on what measures his department and LAPD have taken in an attempt to forge better relations between students and residents and reduce the number of complaints about rowdy off-campus parties.
Cantrell informed the group that Pacific division, which patrols Westchester, is now issuing citations the first time that officers are called to a residence that is hosting a party where there is a large number of guests or the occupants and their guests are disturbing the peace.
This is a shift in the prior policy in which the hosts of the gatherings would be given a warning the first time that a neighbor complained to the police.
The homeowner or host of the party can be cited and fines can begin at $1,000, and those who are given citations are required to make a court appearance.
Cantrell also introduced two new investigators who have been brought on board to give the university’s public safety unit more of a presence in the neighborhoods that surround LMU, especially on weekends, when the student gatherings tend to occur.
LMU investigators can also issue fines to students who are cited by the police for unruly behavior off campus, and they may be ordered to perform community service.
These new initiatives are part of a coordinated effort by a task force that was created in the wake of a flurry of protests by several homeowners who live adjacent to the Jesuit university in recent months. For several years, they have complained about the size and noise levels at student gatherings at what are called “partyhouses,” and several homeowners have written to LMU officials that their neighborhoods have been overrun by as many as 200 students on weekends.
In addition, residents claim that they have witnessed students allegedly committing property damage in their neighborhoods, urinating on lawns and engaging in confrontational behavior with residents.
The boundaries for which LMU’s public safety will be responsible regarding the partyhouses are Manchester Avenue to the south, Sepulveda Boulevard to the east, Jefferson Boulevard to the north and Lincoln Boulevard to the west.
“We believe this patrol area will cover most, if not all, of the partyhouses that we’re aware of,” Cantrell told the audience.
Cantrell noted that there are always parties as far away as Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey in addition to those held in Westchester.
“But that will not be our general patrol area,” the chief said.
Lee Rittenour, who has lived in Westchester for 15 years, feels that university students parking their cars on neighborhood streets is still a problem, but unlike many of her neighbors, she has largely not been affected by the student parties.
“I do think that neighborhoods that force the landowners to be more responsible for their tenants’ actions is a good idea,” she said.
A recent addition to Westchester, Peter Palmer, said he had an unpleasant experience recently with a partyhouse close to his residence.
Last month, Palmer said that he was awakened before 11 p.m. by “yelling and screaming” from several partygoers.
“Loud and boisterous, drunk and disorderly, and vulgar and disrespectful are euphemisms for what I experienced in the next hour and a half,” he wrote in a letter to the editor to The Argonaut.
In addition to the new investigators and the more aggressive approach by LAPD, the Associated Students of LMU has also become involved in the controversy surrounding off-campus parties.
Genna Gammi, vice president of the student association, discussed the Party Smart campaign, an enterprise launched by the association that asks its peers to be responsible when they are at parties on and off campus.
“(Party Smart) is in its beginning stages, and it’s not easy trying to tell your peers to cut back a bit, but that’s we’re committed to doing,” said Gammi, a senior who is majoring in political science.
“The fact that this is a student-initiated campaign says something about how the students are getting involved and taking a proactive role in the issue,” said Jade Smith, the university’s off campus director of student life. “It’s one thing for our office or administration to promote civility, civic responsibility, or accountability; it’s another when students start taking responsibility for each other.”
LMU officials were also questioned by the audience regarding the penalties that students might receive if they are found engaging in destructive or uncivil behavior.
“We have the full extent of our judicial system at our disposal,” Smith answered. “What we really like to have is what we call ‘a teachable moment,’ where the student has an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve done, instead of just pay a fine and keep moving.”
Judicial probation and a possible $500 fine are two of the most extreme punishments, Smith says, but those are typically worst case scenarios.
LMU authorities believe that the fall quarter will be a good period to gauge if their initiatives are successful.
Cantrell, a former Inglewood police captain, told The Argonaut that the measures that are being employed are similar to some of the community-based policing policies that he instituted on the police force, and he is confident that they will work — if they are given an opportunity to do so.
“I’m pretty sure that if we continue to have these kinds of meetings and pursue the strategy to its logical conclusion, we will have a reduction in illegal parties and in frustration by the neighbors,” Cantrell concluded. “I really believe that.”