Committee looks for ways to curb rowdy behavior
The ad hoc committee of Indiana Borough council that has been meeting for several weeks to develop strategies for controlling rowdy Indiana University of Pennsylvania students and other young people during holiday celebrations has been “extremely productive,” according to council President Nancy Jones.
Jones said she expects the “college-age activities” committee formed in April will recommend some changes — possibly bigger fines for violating some borough ordinances — to the full council before university students return for the fall semester.
Creation of the committee was a fallout of the disruptive IUPatty’s Day celebrations March 7-9 when large crowds of young people blocked streets and swarmed to impromptu outdoor parties at off-campus student rental properties. Indiana police said there was significant fighting, vandalism and other public safety issues during the celebrations and the police department experienced a 206 percent increase in the daily average calls for service during that three-day period when 107 arrests were made.
While a general party atmosphere was evident around the borough that weekend, the disturbances were concentrated in the borough’s Second Ward, especially along South Seventh Street and Wayne Avenue.
The IUPatty’s Day celebrations were not university-sanctioned.
Indiana Police Chief William Sutton, a member of the college-age activities committee, said the group was brought together to search for ways to keep a lid not only on future St. Patrick’s Day parties but on off-campus IUP homecoming celebrations as well.
Sutton said the committee would try to identify contributing causes for the “riotous behavior” of IUPatty’s Day and consider measures to eliminate the threat posed to borough residents from the party atmosphere, excessive alcohol consumption and “mob mentality” that were prevalent during March’s partying.
Serving on the committee with Jones and Sutton are Mayor George Hood, chairmen of council’s Public Safety and Community Development committees, and Sgt. William Vojtek of the Indiana Borough Police Department.
Jones said the committee has been meeting each Thursday for about two hours, and other stakeholders were invited to participate in some of the discussions. They include Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty; Otto Peterson, director of the borough’s Code Enforcement Department; and Robin Gorman, chief of staff to IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll.
“It’s imperative we work with IUP” in finding solutions, Jones said.
The committee thus far has been reviewing applicable codes and ordinances.
“We’re looking at increasing fines” for the offenses most common on the celebratory weekends — disorderly conduct, littering, noise violations and disorderly gatherings — Jones said.
At next week’s meeting 12 landlords are expected to join the discussions. The landlords own about 60 percent of the student rental properties in the borough.
The landlords, Jones said, have expressed a positive attitude and want to help the committee find ways to keep future celebrations from getting out of control. And the committee may encourage the landlords to reactivate an association of landlords that once existed in the borough.
Jones said the committee is working diligently so recommendations can soon be made to the full council and possibly be advertised in July. That would allow them to be voted on in August so that the changes can be in effect when students return — and “set the tone” early in the semester, she said.
At its first meeting after St. Patrick’s Day, council heard from several borough residents who described damage to their homes and property and concerns they had for their families’ safety during the IUPatty’s Day celebrations. Some of them asked council to consider zoning changes that would help them sell their “islands” in the middle of student rental properties.
Jones said some residents have started to think the rowdy behavior is just something they’ll have to tolerate.
But, Jones said, “the behavior (of some students) is unacceptable. We don’t want residents to feel they have to accept it. … We don’t want residents to feel they have to endure this.”
According to Jones, some borough residents and even other IUP students have said they don’t feel safe going out — even to a grocery store — on the IUPatty’s Day and homecoming weekends.