Under a recently-developed pilot program, Georgetown residents who call the university’s Student Neighborhood Assistance Program hotline to report disruptive off-campus parties can now expect a response from uniformed MPD officers instead of the graduate students formerly dispatched to problem houses.

By replacing student enforcers with police officers, the university is demonstrating to the Georgetown neighborhood its commitment to mitigating student noise problems and addressing complaints associated with students living off campus. The presence of a police officer – someone who will be getting paid overtime by the university – will also improve the chances that students will take the SNAP warning seriously.

Yet as they examine the pilot program during its first few months, university administrators must pay close attention to student feedback and ensure that the program’s changes do not automatically result in harsher, extra-university punishments.

The SNAP program was developed to address the concerns of residents consistently bothered by rowdy student parties in Georgetown neighborhoods. The university created the hotline to encourage residents to direct their problems to the university before going directly to the police. As the situation stands now, the graduate students or security guards who respond to SNAP dispatches lack the authority to effectively quiet students and allay neighbors’ concerns. While the employment of additional PD officers resolves this issue, it also invites the possibility of direct police involvement in student-neighbor problems and threatens to make the initial intentions of the program – warnings and intra-university punishment instead of arrests – null and void.

Although the university has an obligation to defend the rights and interests of its students, when their actions become illegal, disruptive or unfair to the greater Georgetown community, the university becomes responsible for curtailing their behavior. Yet the university must also ensure that the added police presence improves life for students. The university should publicize the SNAPS number to students and residents as a resource to report safety concerns as well, so that the proximity of additional police officers works to increase student safety as well as to monitor student behavior.

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