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Friday, June 5, 2020

City, Western consider party registration program

When it comes to noise disturbances in college towns, parties thrown by students are often a contributing source.

This is the problem that a party registration system aims to solve, Bellingham neighborhood police officer Eric Osterkamp said.

The proposed “Party Registration Program” is one of the five plans of action from the Town & Gown Implementation Strategy, introduced to City Council in June by Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development Department.

According to the strategy in the “Town & Gown Implementation Strategy” packet, if the program is adopted, students who register their party would receive a warning from the Bellingham Police Department if their house incurs noise-related complaints and will have 20 minutes to control the party or shut it down or risk a citation.

However, the city and university haven’t decided on whether the registration program will be implemented, said Julia Burns, coordinator for the Campus Community Coalition & New Student Program Initiatives.

A Western student, who asked to be anonymous due to underage drinking at his parties, said he has both hosted and attended parties that were shut down by the police due to noise complaints.

“The tickets were, I believe, $150 each and [my roommates and I] all spoke with the cops when they asked all of us to come out,” he said. “The cops seemed nice, and they were understanding we were college students. However, because they had been [to the house] in the past, pretty recently, that’s why they said they had to give us the tickets they did.”

Osterkamp has been a  part of the effort to implement more effective relations between the city and students, starting with the Campus Community Coalition two years ago.

Osterkamp said the project was prompted after seeing the success of a similar program in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The party registration system in Fort Collins has seen successful in reducing noise complaints, Emily Allen, senior city planner for neighborhoods in Fort Collins, said.

Infographic provided by Colorado State University about their party registration system, a joint effort with the City of Fort Collins where the university is located. Photo courtesy of the Colorado State University Off-Campus Life website

Allen was formerly the community liaison between the city and Colorado State University. Its program began in 1997, when a committee of members from both the university and the city was formed to discuss issues facing neighborhoods, Allen said.

“When I say ‘issues,’ it’s pretty standard across the board whenever I ask other communities,” Allen said. “It’s parking, noise, traffic, parties; that type of behavior.”

Evaluations are done for every one of Fort Collins’ programs, and Allen said responses show they have made a difference.

“If you ask neighbors now, they would tell you, ‘Over the last ten years, we’ve seen changes and it continually gets better,’ and that’s perception,” Allen said.

Over 4,000 people have registered their parties since the program began in Fort Collins in 2009, and 97.5 percent of those who have used the registration system ended their night without any issues, Allen said.

The registration program in Fort Collins allows people to register their gatherings seven days a week in person on campus, Allen said. If the party did not have law enforcement get involved, the host can continue to register parties online. However, students still need to go in once a year in person to learn how to host a successful gathering by receiving educational resources, she said.

Allen said to register a party, a person has to be 18 years or older.

The registration process includes giving basic information such as names, address, the date of the party and two phone numbers, Allen said. That information is then sent to police dispatch, and if a complaint does come in, dispatch can see if it’s a registered party, Allen said.

After receiving a complaint, dispatch will call the hosts and they will have 20 minutes to quiet down before police come by.

“It’s related to noise only, so this is just for loud parties,” Allen said. “We really do stress that.”

If adopted in Bellingham, the registration program would allow students to register their planned party on campus, where they would obtain literature about noise ordinances and resources to help them avoid running into issues, similar to Fort Collins’ program, Osterkamp said.

“The benefit of someone signing up for the party registration is they basically get one free warning,” he said.

More often than not, if a party gets a noise complaint that involves the police, hosts will receive a $250 fine per person, Osterkamp said.

“[Registering] gives them a way to get out of a ticket by being responsible to begin with,” Osterkamp said.

Osterkamp said the details of a possible plan with city planners and Western officials are still in the works. The big questions being asked are what this program could look like and how often the city would need to utilize it, he said.


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