The number of citations given to West Chester University students this year under the joint enforcement initiative “Operation Vigilance” is down significantly from the last academic year, according to statistics from the Office of Judicial Affairs.Officials say this is a direct result of efforts to educate the campus about “Operation Vigilance” and the implications strict law enforcement has for students.
So far this year, there have been 116 citations given by the Department of Public Safety and the West Chester Police Department, 71 less than the number of citations by the same time last year. Citations are most commonly given for underage drinking, public drunkenness, and disorderly conduct or noise violations.
West Chester Mayor Dick Yoder said West Chester students have the benefit of being warned about the possible repercussions for what he termed “citable, excessive” behavior.
“We?re just applying the law but we also believe that significant consequences do in fact have an effect on behavior,” Yoder said.
“We refuse to accept the notion that we?re going to accept everything because we?re a college town.”
In the 2003-2004 academic year, students received a total of 357 citations, 198 of which were underage drinking violations. This is compared to the 512 citations received in the 2002-2003 year, a difference of 155 citations.
Yoder said that upon taking office in 2002, he realized that the relationship between students and borough residents was an issue that needed to be addressed.
In the past, he said, students who violated underage drinking laws or other offenses were given “a slap on the wrist,” or argued down their sentences in court, often adding community service as a substitute for harsher sentences.
He said that “Operation Vigilance” was instated as a joint enforcement initiative between on-campus and off-campus police, borough officials and university administration, to apply already existing Pennsylvania laws.
State law for underage drinking violations requires a revocation of one?s driver?s license for 90 days for the first offense, six months for the second offense and one year for the third offense, as well as a fine of up to $300. A first citation for disorderly conduct can result in a fine of up to $300 and public drunkenness requires jail time until sober along with a fine of up to $300.
“[Operation Vigilance] is based on significant consequences having an effect on behavior,” Yoder said. He said that if community expectations are articulated to students and they don?t respond, there need to be significant consequences, which is why local of- ficials no longer offer community service as a substitute for the revocation of a driver?s license. Yoder speaks to freshmen students in orientation at the beginning of each school year, asking them to be sensitive to the needs of residents and their families during their four years at West Chester. “We need to learn to cooperate and live together in a harmonious relationship,” he said.
Off-campus citations, including those from another university campus, can be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs, resulting in university consequences. Many students view this process as unfair and say it results in being charged for the same crime twice.
Director of Judicial Affairs, Lynn Klingensmith, responds to these complaints, referring students to the Student Code of Conduct, and characterizes the judicial process as “educational and progressive.” Klingensmith describes the judicial process at West Chester University as tailored to the individual students. “I always hope that they leave recognizing that you have control over choices and consequences,” she said.
Christina Brenner, co-chair of the Town Gown Council, a collaborative effort between members of the community and university to foster better relationships between borough residents and students, emphasizes the importance of upholding West Chester University?s reputation. “When students disobey the law and make poor choices, they affect the reputation of all West Chester students and they affect the reputation of West Chester as an institution,” she said.