By ALEX FRIEDRICH
One day in the middle of the fall semester of 2016, Kevin Covino, a junior at the University of Mary Washington, got an unexpected knock on his off-campus door. It was the Fredericksburg police. Covino had invited a few friends over to pass the time and listen to music in his backyard, and by using a portable speaker, Covino thought it would be a contained event that would not disturb the neighbors. However, due to the noise, the police did end up being called by a neighbor.
After speaking with Covino, the police walked toward the backyard to find the group of students. Being at the scene in person, the police believed the event deserved no noise ordinance citation, and left without issuing one. However, that next morning, Covino received a judicial summons from the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility at the University of Mary Washington, regarding an off-campus violation of the student noise ordinance. While he had not received any citation from the Fredericksburg City Police Department, he still received a judicial review summons and sanction from the university.
“It was real weird,” said Covino. “The police almost seemed confused that they were even called. But in my student email, the next morning, I saw that judicial summons from the disciplinary office.”
Covino is not alone when it comes to being reprimanded by Mary Washington for a violation of the student code of conduct while off-campus.
According to a Freedom of Information Act request, in the past three years, the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility has dealt with 40 different cases of off-campus students violating the code of conduct, in some form or another. A single case pertains to a single student’s infraction of UMW’s code of conduct. While one of these cases may involve a student with a single off-campus code of conduct violation, many of these cases involve a student violating more than one UMW rule of conduct in one occurrence. In total, these different cases are comprised of 66 counts of charges for students violating the university’s code of conduct off-campus. Just over 1/3 of these total charges involved an off-campus noise ordinance violation or disorderly conduct.
As Mary Washington’s Code of Student Conduct informs students that the campus police are allowed to partner with off-campus law enforcement, an important question emerges: is it fair for the university to discipline an off-campus violation?
The partnership between the Fredericksburg Police Department and the University of Mary Washington is not the only one like it in the country. At many other universities and colleges throughout the country, there are other partnerships between institutions and local law enforcement to tackle off-campus student disturbance and conduct violations.
According to a City Paper article which covered the disciplinary partnership between other universities and their respective towns, “moving off campus, it seems, would be a logical way to avoid having to deal with public safety.” The article goes on to state, “but thanks to each university’s student code of conduct, as a student of the university you are liable to be punished by the university even if you are living off campus.”
For the past eight years UMW’s Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility and the Fredericksburg Police Department have maintained a partnership in regard to dealing with off-campus student violations, and they do not plan to sever ties anytime soon.
“The partnership between the two organizations started in response to the university’s growing student body,” said Chief Michael Hall of the University of Mary Washington Campus Police Department.
In an effort to minimize the negative impact the university could place on its outside environment, a town and gown relationship was created between representatives from both the university and the city. Meeting twice annually, these representatives discuss how off-campus students may be affecting the greater Fredericksburg community.
“However, these representatives also discuss occurrences [going on] in the city and how they can [introduce] university students to events in Fredericksburg, or keep them safe from off-campus non-student crimes,” said Hall.
According to Chapter 38, Article II of the Fredericksburg Code, the violation of noise ordinance involves noise created by a person or group of people that is audible more than 100 feet from its source between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. This pertains to screaming, music from inside a house, or even noise coming from a television. Once students living off-campus violate this ordinance and have established themselves as students before the police, this information is saved within the department’s database.
In regard to the transfer of information pertaining to off-campus noise violations, the Fredericksburg Police Department will send blotter charts to the Mary Washington Campus Police Department, and from there, the information will be sent to the university’s Office of Conduct and Responsibility.
“The city police will send us their blotter charts weekly,” said Hall. “Usually, if the off-campus student self-identifies to the city police as a student, that information will be put in a separate crime log that is sent to us. We then gather those names and the information of the student’s cases, and send them to the Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility.”
While the Fredericksburg Police Department usually reports these off-campus violations to the university, according to Officer Sarah Kirkpatrick, the Fredericksburg Police Department’s Public Information Officer, communication is not just a one-way street between the city’s police department and the university.
“Sometimes a nearby neighbor will contact the university if students [living off-campus] are too noisy,” said Kirkpatrick. “But the University of Mary Washington campus police will, at times, contact the Fredericksburg Police Department as well.”
Furthermore, there may also be a difference in punishment if a student breaks a code of conduct rule off-campus versus on-campus.
According to Ray Tuttle, UMW’s Director of Student Conduct and Responsibility, the course of disciplinary action may differ based on the violating student’s surrounding environment.
“Disciplinary actions for violations on-campus may usually just involve some sort of paper or research assignment,” said Tuttle. “However, code of conduct violations off-campus are usually more educational, and will involve positively impacting the Fredericksburg community in some way.”This usually involves assigned community restoration work through the university’s outer-community reach program, Community Outreach and Resources (COAR). This program provides access to students who wish to volunteer with certain establishments such as the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank and the local Fredericksburg Homeless Shelter.
“Based off of the information that is provided to me, I try to think of an appropriate punishment that fits the [off-campus] violation,” Tuttle said. “It is still important, however, to make sure these punishments are educational and involve the betterment of the greater Fredericksburg community. That is why it is not uncommon for me to assign a paper assignment along with community service.”
Not only does Tuttle hold the power to decide an appropriate punishment for the student in violation, he also takes into consideration if that specific student has had past encounters with the law or has violated a conduct rule previous to the current one in consideration.
“The student’s disciplinary history does have an effect on my decision,” said Tuttle. “While many students learn from their first violation, others may need to experience an educational course of discipline for a longer period.”
The 2017 year alone marked the highest amount of cases involving off-campus student violations in the last few years. While more than one charge may be issued to an individual student’s case, 2017 still marks the highest in conduct violating instances, as well as total disciplinary sanctions issued by the university.
While student sanctions for off-campus noise ordinance violations usually range from a research paper assignment on the Fredericksburg City noise ordinance to as many community service hours Tuttle sees appropriate for the caliber of the violation, violation of the noise ordinance counts as a Class 3 misdemeanor under Virginia State law. According to the Code of Virginia 18.2-11 a Class 3 misdemeanor involves a fine of no more than $500.
Although the relationship between the university and the Fredericksburg Police Department has existed for nearly a decade, many students still feel the relationship is unfair to the off-campus student.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said alumnus Nicco Baratto. “I just don’t think [the university] should have that power outside of the campus boundary.”
Other students, however, believe there is some responsibility on the off-campus students’ part as off-campus representatives of the university.
“I think both organizations should be able to discipline students,” said one anonymous source. “While the police watch over the neighborhoods, the students living within these neighborhoods represent Mary Washington and what the university stands for.”
Looking toward future violations, while there is no end in sight for the university’s and the police departments disciplinary partnership, Hall maintains that both parties are paying attention to the number of violations in certain areas and whether there will be a need to clamp down on future occurrences.
“The number of off-campus violations tend to fluctuate, but we continue to watch the statistical information within the area,” said Hall. “If there is a need to clamp down on off-campus violations within the neighborhoods, then we will do that.”