Community meeting to convene in wake of student neighbourhood program reforcus
By Adela Talbot
October 31, 2013
Called by London Police Chief Brad Duncan, and set to take place likely in November, the meeting will provide a stage to solicit the community’s input in generating a positive, proactive engagement strategy in the city’s student-laden neighbourhoods.
And Western is up to the collaboration task.
“The positive thing, going forward, is people are talking about this. At the end of the day, everyone is interested in good relations,” said Susan Grindrod, Western’s associate vice-provost for Housing and Ancillary Services. Grindrod is among the university’s administrative staff that regularly meets with London’s police chief, ensuring open communication and a working relationship.
“We want to work with everybody to come up with some good way to move forward. There are no simple solutions here; we have to work with the student government, and the city, to ensure we are all communicating in supporting each other,” she added.
Grindrod said the university would continue to encourage students to be mindful of their communities, be respectful citizens and remember their behaviour, whether they are on or off campus, is a reflection of the university.
With criticism abounding, Duncan announced at a press conference last week he had decided to recant Project LEARN’s practice of collecting personal information from students during police canvasses of student neighbourhoods. What’s more, he promised a purge of all information collected to date, acknowledging critics have called it an invasion of privacy.
Duncan noted a different approach, a new strategy that would foster a more positive relationship between students, police and community members, was needed. The strategy would need to accomplish two goals, he said, ensuring the fair treatment of students and maintaining a safe environment in their neighbourhoods, all while addressing the continuing escalation of parties and rowdy gatherings in London’s student-centric communities.
“As I examined the issue of canvassing specific neighbourhoods, more specifically requesting occupant information, I found myself asking the question, ‘Is there a better way to manage the issues we collectively face every fall?’ The answer has to be a resounding yes,” he said.
Duncan explained despite the proactive efforts of Project LEARN over the years, irresponsible and disrespectful student behaviour in residential areas close to Western and Fanshawe College campuses hasn’t waned; parties are growing, complaints aren’t ceasing and something has to be done if the city is to prevent another incident like the St. Patrick’s Day riots in 2012 which cost the city $500,000.
Going forward, the police want to work with the community and students to alleviate the risk of alienation, he added.
“Relationships on many levels need to be established and nurtured. To move forward, we must have a fuller, more effective positive engagement strategy with students,” he said. “The next steps are critical. I am looking for the same commitment from students and others, for a respectful coexistence with neighbours, reducing the need for ongoing police intervention.”
Duncan added the responsibility of engagement should not be left to the police alone, noting the London community, and all stakeholders, should take part.
“Enforcement is a responsibility of the community. To assume police will keep a lid on (student) activity, keep it from boiling over, isn’t a sustainable approach. A public participation meeting is absolutely essential.”
That said, Grindrod recognizes the university’s responsibility in engaging with students and the community in moving toward progress. She is hopeful ongoing conversations, including the city’s Town and Gown committee, would be fruitful and that University Students’ Council initiatives, like the Good Neighbour Program, engage students in their communities, and that students are responsive to them.
“Students should be treated like any member of the London community. If they break the law, they get charged,” she said. “There are no simple solutions here. I think everybody would love it if there was a simple solution.
“These are situations that developed over time in neighbourhoods and it will take time to work with everyone and come up with solutions.”
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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