Some students want smaller police presence for Homecoming 2006

Kingston Police send surveys to Ghetto residents to gauge student opinions

Police Chief Bill Closs, pictured above, said it makes sense students want less police presence.
Police Chief Bill Closs, pictured above, said it makes sense students want less police presence.
Journal File Photo
Graphic by B. Shiva Mayer

About 45 per cent of respondents to a police survey of students in the Ghetto advocated less of a police response to Homecoming.

Police Chief Bill Closs said it makes sense for students to want less police presence.

“What I’m reading into that [is that] there would be greater opportunity to have less interactions between the police and the participants that could lead to arrests or charges, so I fully understand that,” he said.

This won’t necessarily result in having fewer police patrolling the area, however.

“Our oath says we have a duty to uphold the law,” he said. “Our primary concern is one thing and that’s safety—safety of the participants, safety of the neighbourhood, safety of my officers.”

Closs said the purpose of the survey was to gauge student opinion on these issues.

“To be honest with you, I just wanted to ask the students their advice,” he said. “There was nothing, really, beyond that.”

Civilian volunteers collected data from 145 students in the Ghetto between March 3 and April 4 this spring.

Those surveyed were asked to choose a primary household concern between theft and vandalism, disorderly conduct and personal safety.

Fifty-nine per cent cited theft and vandalism as their primary concern, while most of the others cited a combination of either disorderly conduct and property crime, or personal safety and property crime.

The survey posed a second, open-ended question, “What action, if any, would you advise the Kingston Police to take in policing the 2006 [Homecoming] event?”

Among the 45 per cent of students who wanted less of a police presence, the survey stated that many suggested allowing “controlled keg parties” and “sanctioned street parties,” as well as “leniency toward open alcohol.”

An additional 15 per cent of respondents suggested more of a community form of policing, which included mention of a need for “rapport building” between students and police, improvement in community relations, and a “more approachable attitude” on the police’s part.

Furthermore, 7.6 per cent of respondents suggested continued police presence with different techniques, such as having police mix with the crowd or restricting the event to Queen’s students and alumni. Conversely, 4.8 per cent endorsed a stronger, less tolerant police presence.

The survey’s memo noted that none of the respondents living on Aberdeen Street endorsed more of a police presence.

The survey concluded that “it does seem reasonable that students living in the student housing [sic] participate in the homecoming celebrations and, as a group, they are not supportive of police strategies that could negatively affect them (charges, arrests, etc.).”

The report stated that the solicitation of student advice by the police is a positive first step in improving the relationship between police and students.

Closs said he isn’t surprised by the responses.

“I don’t think that I heard anything that I didn’t expect to hear, but I just needed my opinions … confirmed, and I think they were,” he said. “I think it shows for the people living in that area what their mindset or attitude might be for Homecoming.”

Closs said he takes the survey as motivation to make the police force as friendly and approachable as possible.

“Our officers have to be tolerant and be prepared to exercise discretion,” he said. “But at the same time, when there’s this line crossed, we have to uphold our oath. That’s where I’m going with it.”

Closs said the police’s course of action for Homecoming 2006, on Sept. 14 to 16, is “pretty well-developed.”

He said there are some things that he’ll make sure will be different this Homecoming, such as the presence of a car on Aberdeen Street, which was later flipped and set on fire.

“Today I would say, ‘Jeepers, that was my mistake,’” he said. “If you take that one item out of the 2005 Homecoming, imagine how different that would have been.”

This year, Closs said, more drunk driving tests will be done in the Ghetto area, and police will be outfitted with helmets for their protection against flying bottles. As well, a tactical SWAT team will be present, and police will be equipped with 40 Tasers.

“I can tell you, those Tasers will not be used unless it’s to prevent an injury or in an officer’s self-defence,” he said.

Closs said there will also be police cooperation with the University and student government in diffusing any problems that could arise during Homecoming weekend.

“Up to Homecoming, we’ll be publishing some examples of what the participants of Homecoming don’t want to do,” he said. “We don’t want 20 or 30 or 40 people ruining it for everyone at Homecoming, including the police.”

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