ONEONTA _ An online discussion on Facebook.com is centered around what some Oneonta college students perceive is a crackdown on their non-academic pursuits.
Students posting on the social networking website are lamenting what they said is harsh police conduct and the intentional closure of downtown bars by the city.
But city and police officials said there is nothing different being done this semester in terms of public safety. The three bars that are closed this semester are due to a variety of reasons, they said.
The Facebook group where the discussion is taking place was founded by State University College at Oneonta senior Joe Funicelli, a music industries major from Poughkeepsie.
Facebook.com is a social networking website popular among college students. Users of Facebook can start online groups focusing around particular topics.
Funicelli started the group, Hey Oneonta _ Give Us A Break, earlier this month. It has nearly 800 members. Some of the members have shared their personal stories and opinions in a discussion forum for the group.
Funicelli's Facebook group was mentioned briefly during the Common Council meeting Tuesday.
While some members who have participated in the wide-ranging discussion say police are acting too harshly, others say the police are just doing their jobs. Still others cite different factors in what most agree is a decline in the downtown scene.
"The purpose of the group initially was to provide a public forum to discuss the growing concern of college students about how the police were treating them downtown, and to make other students aware of this troubling situation," Funicelli said Thursday.
"Police have always used the first two weeks of a semester to set the tone for college students by walking through bars and doing extra patrols around town. This semester, however, it would seem that they have dramatically increased their efforts to the point where they disregard citizens' personal rights in exchange for making arrests," he said.
Funicelli said his own interest is due in part to the arrest or ticketing of friends for misdemeanors or violations.
This is not uncommon in the first few weeks of the semester, when the police blotter on Sunday will typically have several dozen names of people cited over the weekend for underage drinking, open containers or disorderly conduct.
In previous years, these students would have gotten a ticket and been sent on their way, Funicelli said.
But on at least one of these occasions, a student was placed in a holding cell at the police station for several hours, he said.
"It just doesn't make any sense," Funicelli said. "It just seems absurd to lock someone up for something as minor as that."
But police Chief Joseph Redmond said there is not anything different being done this semester.
Redmond said that last year was one of the quietest years in terms of student conduct downtown and there were few serious incidents.
"We're doing what we've always done," he said Thursday. "It's not a crackdown. It's trying to maintain what we started last year."
It is not uncommon for someone arrested on a minor offense to be placed in a holding cell until he or she can be processed, Redmond said.
"They are young and what they have to remember is that there are always two sides to a story," Redmond said.
Mayor John Nader said he will be meeting with Funicelli next week to discuss the concerns of students, as well as the expectations of the city.
Nader said that everything that he has heard about law enforcement so far this semester so far is that it has been consistent with last fall.
"It seems to be effective," Nader said Thursday. "We are not trying to pick on anyone."
The bars that are closed are shuttered due to a variety of reasons, Nader said.
In one of the cases, the complaints that led to the temporary closure of The Alley go back several years, he said.
Funicelli said he is looking forward to meeting with the mayor and said he recognizes that students need to respect year-round residents.
"I'm very excited about it," Funicelli said. "I was surprised to get an e-mail from him in the first place."
College is not just about the academic work, he said.
"You also go for the social aspect, whether you go to the bars or not," Funicelli said. "The general consensus is that no one wants to go downtown anymore."