02 Mar Jonathan Cartu Said: Residents complain about off-campus UNCW students, what is
WILMINGTON — Major crimes in Wilmington have been trending downward according to the latest statistics from the Wilmington Police Department, but calls for service in one particular part of town continue to be the highest in the city — the area around UNCW.
Issues range from the congested College Road corridor where traffic accidents are a common occurrence to complaints about college students throwing house parties. Lieutenant Matt Ingram with the Wilmington Police Department help shed some light on what’s going on around the college and how the police handle it.
Residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the college have voiced their discontent with both the school and the City of Wilmington for a perceived lack of action and leniency for college students, but let’s take a look at what is actually happening in this part of town. Can the higher calls for service be completely the fault of college students?
How much of the issue is caused by students?
For Ingram, the answer is no, but that does not absolve students either.
The area around the college, which the police department designates as a ‘census tract’ for the purpose of tracking calls for service does see the highest volume of calls in the area, Ingram said. But that does not mean that all of these calls are directly related to college students, he said.
For example, the College Road area has a number of retail stores and is one of Wilmington’s busiest corridors. Large retail stores tend to have more calls for service for things like theft and even non-emergencies — but all of these calls are logged and add to the higher number.
“We have the Sams Club area, we also have the New Centre Drive area and the Wal-Mart, those are very high call-generating areas. So when you look at the totality of the numbers that Barry (the WPD’s statistician) has produced for us, those are calls for service,” Ingram said.
Other instances that would create a call in the database but not actually lead to any arrests or crimes taking place could be drivers reporting other drivers for things like speeding or texting and driving. Even if police are unable to locate a driver accused of such things, the call still is recorded as a ‘call for service.’
Looking at the numbers
But when residents voice their concerns and use the numbers from the police department to complain about college students, they are not referring to the crimes or calls for service happening in the general vicinity, Ingram said. Instead, they are typically referring to what he calls nuisance calls like loud parties and noise complaints.
However, calls for service to off-campus student housing apartment complexes do show a significant amount of calls. In the past four years, the Wilmington Police Department has responded to nearly 6,000 calls for service just at the apartments near the college as shown in the graph above. But these numbers are not exactly unusual Ingram said.
“When you when we start to contrast the totality of the numbers, these numbers are fairly small when, when you’re looking at 1,500 per year divided up over one of the 32 apartment complexes listed here over a 12 month period. It’s not that many calls and is not surprising to me … I’ve been a cop for 23 years [and] it doesn’t stand out to me as something that’s really a problem. And if we look at some of these apartment complexes, you can see the numbers are dropping over the years,” he said.
Some have argued that the number of calls for service is significantly higher than what it took for the district attorney to use nuisance abatements against hotels along Market Street and the same tactic could be or should be used against these apartment complexes.
For Ingram, the two things don’t really compare.
First, Ingram pointed out that, calls for service do not always indicate a crime took place, it is simply a call requesting a police officer. Second, and perhaps more importantly for Ingram, the types of incidents police respond to at college apartments compared to motels are vastly different.
The calls for the hotels on Market Street often related to drugs, overdoses, prostitution, and sometimes even more serious crimes. When police are dispatched to these apartment complexes the calls are usually for noise complaints, laptops stolen out of unlocked cars, and other less severe crimes, Ingram said.
“It is my personal math opinion is that, and I think our legal would agree that it is at this point, it is creating a nuisance, but not to the level of these hotels, which is actually deteriorating the quality of life around that area. The quality of life that is deteriorating around Progress 910 [a student housing apartment complex] is other college students who are also making noise. They complain about each other on the day they need to study and when they don’t need to study, they are having a party. We kind of got a vicious cycle at a very low-level annoyance going on over there right versus narcotics and death overall lowering of the quality of life for the residences nearby,” Ingram said.
While the Wilmington Police Department does have jurisdiction over most of the apartment complexes and student rental housing it is not alone in efforts to help students become ‘good neighbors.’ For more than a decade now, the university has utilized a community relations group to help ensure students are meeting the standards of the community as well as additional student standards put in place by the college.
University Community Relations Task Force/Alliance
In 2004, UNCW and with the City of Wilmington entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create the University Community Relations Task Force (UCRTF/A) which would later be renamed to omit ‘task force’ opting for ‘alliance’ in its place.
“The University Community Relations Task Force was established in 2004 under the leadership of City of Wilmington Mayor Spence Broadhurst and University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo. The name was formally changed to the University Community Relations Alliance (UCRA) in March 2016. The name change was voted on by the Alliance and approved by the City of Wilmington. The name change signifies over 10 years of partnership with this group and the ongoing relationships in the Alliance,” according to UNCW’s community relations page.
Dean of Students Michael Walker has been a member of the alliance for about 15 years and has seen the group progress over the years.
“We are certainly sensitive to the fact that the majority [of students] live in the Greater Wilmington community and as a result, we have pushed a great number of resources toward some of these challenges,” Walker said.
For example, the UCRA sends students what they call ‘good neighbor’ packets and explains to them the school’s and the city’s expectations. This can include noise ordinances, open burning laws, and other topics college students might need to know about — but getting students to read these information packets is a different story.
The university has put forth an effort to help residents and students coexist, but for some, it is not enough. While students are a part of the UNC school system, they are also more than just students, they are residents of Wilmington and are treated as such.
For those living on campus, the university police typically handle any calls for service and provide security.
Some have posed the question as to whether or not the school police should be responding to student-incidents occurring off-campus. As it currently stands, UNCW…