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Group tackles town-gown issues

by Sara Ganim
Centre Daily Times
October 13, 2010

STATE COLLEGE — Every Tuesday for the first 12 weeks of the fall semester, police officers and Penn State and borough officials meet to digest the weekend happenings in the four neighborhoods near campus where town-gown relations are often strained.

The group — dubbed First 8, or F8, when it started in the fall of 2007 — tries to get to student and non-student residents early in the academic year, giving them information about what’s expected of them when they live in State College.

“Data that we’ve looked at historically are that the largest number of issues that occur in the community occur during the first few weeks of the fall semester when classes start up and students return to campus, it tends to be a busier time,” said Borough Manager Tom Fountaine.

The effort has grown from the first eight weeks to the first 12 or so, and focuses on a collaborative approach between Penn State and student-related departments — Greek, judicial affairs, housing — and borough offices such as police, codes enforcement and zoning.

“We’re all around the table, so if there’s a location that comes up and it’s a Greek organization, we’ve got a director of Greek life here …,” Penn State director of police, Steve Shelow, said. “I think that’s the key, for us all to be able to collectively talk about how to address the problem.”

If one address stands out as a continued problem, someone will knock on its door one Friday, before another party gets started. “When it gets to a certain point, a team will actually go down on a Friday and talk to the residents, letting them know that they’re becoming a problem,” said Penn State Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Puzycki. “Those sorts of proactive actions we’re trying to put in place on the front end, so that we can minimize what’s happening on the back end.”

These proactive efforts seem to be working, the group says. Data from 2006 until 2010 shows violations of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, trash or large party complaints have either evened out or improved, Fountaine said.

“But there’s still a lot of work to do, we still have a lot of calls from those neighborhoods,” Fountaine said.
The program kicks off with the LION (Living in One Neighborhood) event, and is followed up with pre-party contacts and reactive enforcement.

This year, the neighborhood enforcement and alcohol team, put together by State College police, focuses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on controlling large gatherings, events or parties that can easily get out of control and lead to quality of life issues.

“As the team continues to work together, better things come out,” said State College police officer Greg Khoele, chairman of the group. Khoele said one of the biggest benefits is the growth in communication among the officials, which carries over when the 12 weeks end.

“We’re dealing with mixed communities,” Pusycki said. “And it’s not easy answers. We’ve been struggling with these issues for a long time, and we’ll continue to … This committee can’t control people in those communities, it’s about them wanting to live together and negotiate in ways that are healthy to live right next door to each other. And we’re trying to put in place things that will facilitate that. Ways for them to communicate.”