City condemns illegal student behavior
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 01:03
The Morgantown Police Department, Fire Department and City Council addressed the aftermath of St. Patrick’s Day weekend Tuesday to determine if more aggressive measures should be taken to prevent malicious fires.
Fire Chief Mark Caravasos said the city should consider increasing fines or instituting jail time for offenders, as well as working with West Virginia University to more harshly discipline students involved in setting fires.
"One of the best recourses I believe we have is the WVU judicial system," Caravasos said.
The MFD responded to 35 street and dumpster fires and one fire involving a tractor-trailer ignited on Kingwood Street.
Three people have been cited for malicious burning, including one juvenile,Caravasos said.
The city and the University must make a concerted effort to manage the problem, he said.
Caravasos said while jail time may be a deterrent, he would like to see WVU either suspend or expel students depending on the severity of the offense.
"It does vary – that’s a tough call for them, but I would like to see more discipline with this also, because we do have our hands full with this," he said.
MPD received 597 calls over the weekend relating to disorderly conduct, possession and consumption violations and other unlawful behavior involving students.
"I think it’s time to say ‘enough is enough,’" said Deputy Mayor Ron Bane. "I think it’s time to put some felonies to these actions, and these kids are going to have to accept that they will have a felony on their record, and that’s tough."
The MPD issued four controlled substance violations, four DUIs, four underage possessions, 41 open container and public consumption citations, 30 underage consumptions and four nuisance parties, said Police Chief Edward Preston.
Preston said the nuisance parties involved 500 to 600 people in one place leading to noise concerns and safety issues.
"These weren’t parties with 20 or 30 people – the numbers were in the hundreds," he said.
Bane said the University needs to become more involved in order to prevent influxes of illegal incidents involving students.
"I would love to see this city send a bill to WVU for all the time you put into these efforts to keep these fires under control and finally make them start paying because this is not their playground," he said. "This is my home and your home, and these kids don’t care. They don’t care that this is our home, and it’s time that we send them a bill."
"I’m Schmacked," a
documentary project focused on "party schools" around the country, visited WVU during the weekend and may have contributed to the number of incidents, Preston said.
"Any time you get in a situation like that where there are cameras and you add the alcohol and the party atmosphere, they will start putting on a show for the camera," he said.
Caravasos said the incidents often involve students from other colleges and areas who are not afraid of expulsion or University recourse.
"Some involved are students, some aren’t," he said. "We cited a 17-year-old from Ohio whose excuse for coming here was that he came to see if he wanted to come to WVU. His chances of that are now very slim."
Bane said the city could not afford to ignore the level of involvement of student-populated areas.
"Let’s not water this down. It’s the student areas. Let’s not put that on ‘Oh, it’s out of town people,’ because it’s not that," Bane said. "Some are, but it’s occurring in student areas."
Sabrina Cave, assistant vice president for Student Affairs Communications, said the University is willing to offer support for any initiatives approved by the city to prevent future issues.
"Whatever those penalties are, whatever is set by the city, we follow," Cave said. "If it’s jail time, if it’s restitution, we’re all for it because that sends a strong message to our students that we’re not going to tolerate this at WVU."
The council also approved the adoption of the budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year during the meeting.
In the budget agreement, the council voted 4-3 to cut $25,000 in funding for the Sunnyside Up neighborhood revitalization program to allocate to a gum-cleaning machine for the city.