West Chester chief of police Scott Bohn says new quiet signs, the first of which was placed on the borough streets on March 26, are not meant to target students.
The signs will be hung on 60 blocks within the southeast section of the borough, from the tops of S. Matlack and Walnut Streets, down to Rosedale Avenue, and on sections of Church Street, New Street, and Darlington Street. The area of signage has prompted suspicion that the signs target university students because the affected areas surround student housing.
Bohn said, despite rumors, the signs are not meant to target students. “[Officers] have to make a fair and objective application of the law with everybody… we do not target people, we target behavior. Officers will use their discretion,” said Bohn. In other words, there will be equal application of the law across all ages and types of people in the community. The area of signage does seem to be directed at students, but Bohn said officers do not think of it that way.
“There is an existing noise ordinance throughout the community, wherever you are.” Noise violation laws have always been in effect; the signs do not mean a new law is being enforced. “It’s basically a description of what the law is. It does not change the law; it does not enhance the law,” he said. “It’s just a courtesy of public information.”
The new signs list quiet hours as 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., daily. But, Bohn said, “don’t stand out at 8:55, screaming, trying to test the system.” Regardless of the hours listed on the sign, the noise law still applies during all hours of the day, according to Bohn.
Bohn admits that the perception among many West Chester residents is that students are the main offenders of noise and alcohol laws. However, Bohn said the statistics do not support that belief. Less than half of the citations issued in West Chester last year were to students, and of that percentage, many were first-time offenders who did not repeat their mistake. “Good people make mistakes,” Bohn said of many first-time student offenders. He went to say that visitors and young professionals who frequent the bar scene make up a large portion of offenders, though students are typically the scapegoat for outrageous behavior.
Bohn said, instead of placing the signs only in student residential areas, the signs should be placed around all high-volume pedestrian areas of the West Chester borough – especially High Street, areas of Church Street, Market, and Gay Streets. Many of these streets have housing above businesses, and bar-goers typically do not know they are disrupting a residential area when they walk down these high-volume streets. “Many people cannot differentiate a residential area from a business area because [the borough] is so densely populated.”
The signs will present new challenges for bar-goers in the borough, because police will now have leverage to cite pedestrians who are acting out. Bohn said that a certain set of behaviors will prompt the interest of nearby police. Staggering, yelling, and arguing are among the behaviors that officers look for as a sign of public intoxication. “You need to be drawing attention to yourself to get stopped,” said Bohn.
Many area police have gotten a bad reputation from students who think officers’ sole motivation is to arrest as many people as possible. According to Bohn, that is not the case. Bohn said, “Officers are more concerned with the safety of the individual, so that they can safely get where they are going.” Bohn recalls instances of intoxicated individuals walking into residences that are not their own, urinating in the street, and falling asleep on the sidewalk, trying to get home. “Be reasonable with your behavior,” Bohn advises. “You really can’t go wrong if you do that.”
Kellyn McNamara is a fourth-year student majoring in nutrition with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at KM654122@wcupa.edu.