The level of complaints about noise and other poor behavior by college students is louder so far this fall, but Oneonta city police said the number of arrests reported to campus officials has been steady since 2012.
Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said complaints by residents and their Common Council representatives about noise, parties, large groups and offensive behavior by students are unusually high this fall.
To respond, the city is looking at redeploying police officers; immediately involving rental property owners or agents in responses to problems; and prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent possible, according to Miller, a former president of Hartwick College.
The State University College at Oneonta enrolls about 6,000 students, and Hartwick, a private liberal arts college, has about 1,500 students. Oneonta's population is about 14,000, according to the U.S. Census reported.
BARS ARE OUT; PARTIES ARE IN
Based on discussions with police and others, Miller said, the increased complaints may be attributed to three possible factors, including:
• Students use social media to identify the location of parties downtown.
• An increased lack of respect about residents' rights in city neighborhoods.
• The closure of three bars in 2012 resulted in alcohol-related issues shifting from downtown into city neighborhoods and onto the college campuses.
City police Lt. Douglas Brenner agreed that since the state Liquor Authority shuttered those bars downtown, arrests for assaults decreased but quality-of-life arrests increased. Also, bars are doing a better job keeping out underage patrons, he said, and younger students are more accustomed to attending house parties.
ARRESTS STEADY, BUT COMPLAINTS STILL HIGH
The number of student-related arrests reported to campus officials has been steady in recent years, Brenner said.
Between Aug. 23 and Sept. 8, the number of such incidents reported to officials at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College was 42 this year, 46 in 2013 and 47 in 2012, Brenner said. Most were for municipal code offenses, such as noise and possessing open containers of alcohol, he said.
According to this year's blotter, between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1, about 35 arrests were made, including 15 students from SUNY Oneonta or Hartwick.
Brenner said the 28 arrests between Sept. 5 and 7 included seven SUNY Oneonta students, three Hartwick students, three from SUNY Delhi and one from SUNY Albany.
Of these, eight were for underage drinking, four were for public fighting, three for open container and two each for disorderly conduct, public urination/defecation, noise, and littering, according to Brenner.
Arrests don't seem to be deterring similar offenses, Miller said, and he is checking with Michael Getman, city prosecutor, about penalties.
POLICE 'STRETCHED TO CAPACITY'
The police department has increased staffing to 10 officers (from the standard six) on weekend nights, Miller said. The city is reviewing whether police resources should be spent arresting individuals for public intoxication offenses, he said, or focused on activities of groups, whose members' safety also must be protected.
Michael Lynch, Fourth Ward Common Council member, rode with a police sergeant one night this past weekend. In one incident, 112 people left a student rental on Ford Avenue, Lynch said in an email to city officials, and police had to escort the group to the Water Street bar area downtown.
"It only takes one idiot to turn a group into a mob," Lynch wrote. The police department did an impressive job but is "stretched to capacity," he said, suggesting the city meet with stakeholders and develop a strategy to address problems.
Lynch said he has had an "avalanche of complaints — most from residents who never complain to me about disruptive behavior."
"Center City residents have a high tolerance for noise and parties," he said. "However, there is very different dynamic happening after dark — and we need to deal with it."
CITY REACHES OUT TO COLLEGES
Miller said he sent emails to the presidents of SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College at 7 a.m. Sunday about student-related problems downtown during the weekend.
That communication follows an invitation last week to the presidents, vice presidents, security personnel and student leaders to attend the Sept. 16 Common Council meeting to discuss issues tied to the annual OH-Fest music festival, and student behavior downtown, he said.
Miller said he met Monday with Meg Hungerford, acting city manager, and city police Chief Dennis Nayor to discuss student-related problems. Nayor meets weekly with Chief Daniel Chambers of SUNY Oneonta University Police, and Tom Kelly, director of Hartwick's campus safety office, according to the mayor.
David Lubell, Hartwick College manager of media relations, said the college administration didn't have a response by 9 p.m. Monday to a request for comment.
SUNY Oneonta emphasizes to students the importance of being respectful neighbors, college spokesman Hal Legg said, and the overwhelming majority are respectful.
"We are concerned about recent reports of college students causing disruption," Legg said in a prepared statement. "We will continue to work with the city to address incidents involving our students."
OH-FEST'S FUTURE IN JEOPARDY
College officials are optimistic that OH-Fest will take place downtown in 2015, according to Legg.
"That choice rests squarely with our Student Association, Hartwick's student government, and the city, which must negotiate an agreement ... as they have in years past," Legg said. "We will support whatever decision they reach."
Steven Perry, vice president for student development, will be at Common Council next week, according to Legg, who said a complete list of attendees isn't confirmed.
Kai Malik, president of the SUNY Oneonta Student Association, said she plans to attend the meeting and wants to work with the city to improve relations. Students too often are treated as "outsiders," not as the Oneonta residents they are, said Malik, a 2011 graduate of Unatego Central School.
News about OH-Fest concerns and problems with student behavior downtown is disheartening, she said.
"The only thing that is focused on is the minority of students who do cause problems," she said.
Malik, an OH-Fest organizer, said students checked after the event and were told of some issues regarding trash but didn't hear about the police concerns.
"We really care about the community," she said.
LIEUTENANT: 'THERE IS NO EASY ANSWER'
Students living downtown are encouraged to introduce themselves to neighbors, Brenner said, and residents also may want to meet student neighbors. Some residents are interested in being pro-active about problems in their neighborhoods, he said, but if noise is a problem or if an incident involves a drunken person, the best step is to call police.
Generally, noise and other offensive behavior drops off with colder weather and the demands of coursework, Brenner said. And after a few weeks at college, students have found friends and socializing patterns may change, he said.
Meanwhile, the police department is looking at responses and better distribution of resources, he said.
"There is no easy solution," Brenner said.