A police camera is currently installed on the corner of Aberdeen and William Streets, ready to be activated for Homecoming weekend.
The camera, mounted on a telephone pole, is part of the Kingston Police Force’s (KPF) strategy for keeping the peace on Aberdeen St. during Homecoming, which runs from today to Sunday.
In 2005, a car was overturned and set on fire by partygoers on Aberdeen St. Queen’s administration cancelled the Homecoming celebration indefinitely in November 2008; the weekend was only reinstated last year as an official university event.
The police’s current strategy for monitoring Homecoming festivities involves a mixture of surveillance, preventative measures and crowd control. During the October 2013 Homecoming street party, police cleared the middle of Aberdeen St. and kept partygoers contained on the sidewalks.
This strategy wasn’t always used, according to KPF media relations officer Steve Koopman. In Homecoming weekends prior to last year, the police had at times barricaded the ends of Aberdeen St. at Earl and Johnson Streets instead, containing the revelry within the block.
Koopman said barricading the street led to mixed results.
“Some people felt it was good to have the area contained,” he said. “Others felt that now that the students knew it was a cordoned-off area, it was a party area and people would therefore come there en masse.”
Police currently prioritize keeping the street open for safe passage of emergency vehicles, he said.
“[In previous years] we did have a student fall off the lower roof portion, we had students who hit their faces on the sidewalk, we were having beer bottles thrown in past years and feet were getting cut open,” he said.
While clearing the streets can push partygoers onto private lawns, Koopman said police are more concerned with keeping the street safe.
“If the officer feels that safety’s being jeopardized, then, unfortunately, if someone is stepping on the lawn, as much as we understand that it would be a frustration point, would not take priority over the fact that we might have something very dangerous taking place on the street,” he said.
Property owners or tenants can ask people to leave under the Trespass to Authority Act, Koopman added, and once a situation has calmed, they can ask police to help remove people from their lawn.
In 2006, Kingston City Council passed a series of recommendations for making Homecoming weekend safer.
Their recommendations included increasing video surveillance in the Aberdeen St. area for the weekend and improving the lighting around the street.
In 2006, KPF Chief Bill Closs told the Journal that prior to that point, the police had conducted video surveillance using hand-held video cameras.
According to Koopman, the surveillance cameras will be used to both identify problems as they emerge — such as fights or crowds forming on major streets — and to provide evidence of infractions after they occur.
The camera at Aberdeen and William Streets will only be operational this weekend, he said.
Koopman declined to specify how many surveillance cameras KPF has installed. He said there are no other alternatives that give police the same overhead view of the University District.
“It has greatly helped us figure out where to deploy our officers, if anyone is potentially getting in any trouble, if a fight is breaking out, if a street is being taken over,” he said.
The Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario recommends that signs should be installed to notify the public of a surveillance camera’s location.
A 2007 report by the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended that: “Signs at the perimeter of the surveillance areas should identify someone who can answer questions about the video surveillance system, and can include an address, telephone number, or website for contact purposes.”
Signs were installed by the city across the University District on Wednesday and Thursday. According to Koopman, there are nine signs across the area.
“The cameras were installed on the poles prior to the weekend, but that’s simply logistics for our technical officers to get them mounted and ensure that they’re working before the Friday evening,” he said.
The Ontario Provincial Police and police forces from other municipalities, such as Belleville and Toronto, assisted the KPF during previous Homecomings.
Mounted units — which used horses for crowd control and wore different uniforms than the regular KPF officers — were employed in 2005 to keep partygoers off the street.
The special units were effective, Koopman said, but could seem mysterious or oppressive to members of the public. For this reason, all officers will wear the same uniforms this weekend.
“We want to keep a sense of universality to officers to make sure that they aren’t seeming oppressive and that they stay approachable,” he said.
Jane Switzer, ArtSci ’10, was present at five Homecoming or Fauxcoming weekends between 2005 and 2009, and covered Homecoming for the Journal during her time at Queen’s.
At the Homecoming weekends she remembers, the University District was filled with Kingston police, she said. Officers would be stationed at Earl and Johnson Streets, then walk through crowds on Aberdeen St. ticketing students and pouring out open alcohol.
“I remember walking around the campus and it felt like there was an officer on every corner,” said Switzer, a former Editor in Chief of the Journal.
The unusual nature of the event, she added, justified the police presence.
“When I was at Queen’s, Homecoming was a quagmire of broken glass, alcohol, 6,000 people on rooftops and balconies,” she said. “Frankly, I think it’s a miracle no one died.”
It’s the police and emergency services that are to thank for that, she said, noting that police were strict in enforcing alcohol bylaws, but the relationship between police and students remained friendly.
Megan Thomas, an Aberdeen St. resident, said she was dissatisfied with police strategy last Homecoming. After police pushed people onto her lawn, she said, they told members of her house to get people off their lawn or risk a fine.
“I said, ‘I know everyone on the porch. The people you are pushing on the lawn — that’s your responsibility.’ We didn’t know anyone on the lawn,” said Thomas, Sci ’15. Her house later received a $235 noise complaint ticket, she added.
She said she doesn’t see the benefit of clearing the street.
“I think they would be better off to barricade the street,” she said. “It’s not like Aberdeen is a huge thoroughfare for traffic.”
Although Thomas’ house is next to the surveillance camera, she said she was unaware that the camera had been installed this week.
Parker McKibbon, who also lives on Aberdeen St., said he found out about the camera from students living across the street, who told him it’ll only be recording during Homecoming weekend.
McKibbon, Comm ’15, said the police haven’t been communicative about their role at Homecoming or their surveillance of the area.
“It’s pretty sketchy. Aberdeen is definitely a street where you need more surveillance, but that’s a little more of an issue with privacy,” he said.
McKibbon’s housemate, Matt Bachan said he disagrees with the strategy police employed last year.
“They should let people party on the street. And as long as everything is kept inside, it’s good. You don’t need as many cops as well,” said Bachan, ArtSci ’15.
Michael Smith, another Aberdeen St. resident, said he was unaware the surveillance camera was installed specifically for Homecoming. He added that he hasn’t found the police to be communicative about their role in the community.
“I think the cops just come in here and shut stuff down and then they leave,” said Smith, ArtSci ‘16.
AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Ariel Aguilar Gonzalez said the AMS has no official stance on police strategies or surveillance, adding that he relays the concerns of students to the KPF.
“They can reach out to me and we can reach out to our contacts within the police, especially if it’s to do with the Friday and Saturday of Homecoming itself,” Aguilar said.
The Municipal Affairs Commission coordinates Homecoming strategy along with community organizations like the KPF, City staff and the Kingston General Hospital, Aguilar said.
“We meet to discuss how the event went, what we feel could be improved on and then from that we take on initiatives in preparation for the next year,” he said.
The groups typically meet after the weekend to conduct “post-event briefing”, according to Aguilar, and discuss which strategies work.
“Since 2005, there’s been a huge improvement in terms of student behavior, police resources, and all of the different metrics that you can think of,” he said.
Aguilar said KPF doesn’t share details of its Homecoming plans with the AMS for safety reasons. However, he said he’s been told the number of police officers on the streets will be similar to last year. In October 2013, up to 80 officers were deployed to Aberdeen St. and the surrounding area during Homecoming weekend.
The AMS is running the first “Reunion Festival” on Saturday night. Union St. will be cordoned off between University Ave. and Division St. for the event, which will include entertainment, food and a licensed area for alcohol consumption.
Although the festival could create a second event for the police to watch over, the AMS event will have its own security available to reduce the need for police involvement, Aguilar said.
“We have a security company with our contractor, Queen’s student constables, Queen’s First Aid, Walkhome and a lot of tactics to mitigate that,” he said.
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