Student Task Force discusses public safety strategies for rowdy rentals

The College Student Task Force held its second meeting in Roxborough on Wednesday night to begin brainstorming strategies to curb or curtail rowdy behavior, late-night parties and some vandalism by college students living in area rental properties. 

Representatives from the 5th Police District, St. Joseph’s University and Philadelphia University were on hand to make presentations and provide insight. 

Morgan Cephas, Deputy Chief of Staff for 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., facilitated the discussion among 14 attendees who included the presenters along with residents and leaders of civic organizations in Roxborough, Manayunk and East Falls. 

According to Cephas, the task force “is a working group spearheaded by the Councilman’s office” and it meets “to make a better environment for everyone, including the students, so they’re an asset and not a nuisance in the community.”

A ‘chronic’ quality of life disruption

The meeting suggested that communication fault lines exist between homeowners, landlords of rental properties, agents responsible for residential licenses and inspections, community district and college law enforcement, student renters from area colleges, other residents, and non-residents who may frequent parties or area entertainment establishments.

During the meeting, attendees complained that public drunkenness, littering, loud music and late night partying keep others from sleeping and enjoying a more pleasant quality of life. College students and fraternity members from a number of colleges occupy residences by homeowners. One attendee from the Roxborough-Manayunk area said, “It’s so chronic. Crowds on the street. There are constant people, packs of them, five or eight at a time, coming up the street where we live, sleep and eat. It’s a big problem if you live there and are trying to sleep.”

Attendee and East Falls Community Council member Meg Greenfield gave Cephas a packet of case-law-supported-options for regulating the rental of single family residences to college students, as research that may lead to ideas for other strategies of cooperation to curb the disturbances problem.

Presenters were Wadell Ridley, SJU Assistant Vice President for Government and Community Relations and former community liaison with the 4th District for then-Councilman and now-Mayor Michael Nutter; Fifth District Community Relations Officer Charles Kline; and Philadelphia University Dean of Students Mark Govoni.

Increasing awareness and notifying security 

Ridley described the security measures used at SJU. He said strategies have included fall semester orientations, creating a standard community complaint form, initially talking to allegedly disruptive students, fines, “targeting repeat properties” where there were complaints, raising security staff’s awareness before “high incident holidays,” increasing bike and foot patrols, and even employing undercover infiltrations by officers who look like students. He also said increasing student awareness about who might commit crimes is important. He cited a case where some lesser known guests attended a party before a break and then “cleaned out” the party-house when residents left on break. 

Another problem SJU addressed was making sure residents directed complaints to both 911 and campus security, and improved coordination between those law enforcement agencies, according to Ridley.

After presentations that revealed fewer resources are available in the College Student Task Force’s area than the SJU model, Patti Brennan of the Ridge Park Civic Association questioned the meeting itself and asked, “So, what was the point?” She added, “I am kind of insulted that the 39th [police district] didn’t send anybody.”

Cephas suggested taking another look at night courts as an option for the College Student Task Force. The Councilman’s office will make a formal request to the 5th District police department for reports of 911 calls about rowdy college student parties, and “hot houses,” or repeat offenders.

Officer Kline pointed out, though, “It’s not all students.”

Communication, enforcement and punishment 

Philadelphia University Dean of Students Govoni described having a “very positive” relationship with PPD’s 39th District, despite the promotion of Captain Stephen Glenn, whose departure some suggested as a transition away from results in curbing late night disruptive parties and behavior. 

Govoni described Philadelphia U.’s efforts as including communication with the precincts, using additional enforcement, talking directly with students, expelling some in rare cases, and having regular public safety meetings at his own home. “In some cases landlords called me. I asked them to evict the guys. And they moved to [another] street. It’s chronic. The easiest leverage we have is over organizations: varsity athletes, for example. We have cost people playing time. Or leverage with fraternities. We have done a lot of due diligence,” Dean Govoni said.

“I am very sympathetic,” he added. “The economy has caused the rental property market to increase. It is lucrative, some say, to over-stack your property. I talk to students and ask them to talk about landlords. That’s our system.”

After the 90-minute session and the presenters had left, Cephas, Greenfield, Brennan, Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association President Andrew Bantly, Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association Vice President Charles “Chip” Roller, and attendee Don Simon extended their conversation, in private.

“I was happy with the outcome of the meeting. There is a willingness to work on a common problem that a number of groups are having,” said Greenfield. 

Cephas said the task force plans to meet monthly in the coming months and later on a quarterly basis. 

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