Ride Along controversies continue

Program for the good of the neighborhood, school says

Article by: Jeff Fish

A Saturday night party in the North End, held on Feb. 20, ended abruptly when the Boston Police knocked on the door, citing a noise complaint. In came a short, female police officer who looked unhappy to be there, according to a Suffolk sophomore who attended the party, but wished to remain anonymous. “She didn’t say anything about the party. She just said ‘this is a nice place. How much do you pay for this?’” She made small talk with the students as she collected their IDs.

The students in attendance, some underage and some old enough to drink, were in no trouble with the BPD and would not have received any punishment had it not been for the presence of the Suffolk Ride Along  program.

The sophomore student, who is underage, said he took responsibility “for being at a loud party,” but did not admit to drinking. Immediately after his hearing, the student received an email that found him responsible on both counts and  he was forced to take an online alcohol education class called AlcoholEdu, and pay a $35 fine.

The party was hosted by a junior, underage former Orientation Leader, who was put on disciplinary probation and also had to take AlcoholEdu. He was fined $100 instead of $35 because he was the host.

SGA President, Brian LeFort also attended the party and had to pay a $35 fine, write a “reflection letter,” and watch an online video called “Neighborhood U.”

LeFort has moved on from the incident and wants to “concentrate on school” during his remaining months at Suffolk, but acknowledged a possible need to look into the Ride Along Program. “I’ve always been able to see the administrative side [of a situation] but I’m here to represent the students,” he said.

From an administrative standpoint, the purpose of the Ride Along Program is to “keep Suffolk University’s image good on Beacon Hill and the North End,” according to LeFort. “But from a student standpoint, it would be interesting to see who actually understands the program completely. Why would [a student] go to a university where the administration is going to keep such a close eye on us?”

SGA Vice President Nick DiZoglio, 2011, was also at the party and described the Ride Along program as inconvenient, saying that it took him almost a half hour to get his ID back, but added that the program “means well.”

Dean of Students Ann Coyne said, “the University has set an off campus student policy and feels strongly that students have agreed to abide by this policy.” She added that most other colleges in Bostonhave Ride Along programs, including Boston College, Boston University, and Wentworth.

Richard Grealish, the Director of Neighborhood Response, thinks the Ride Along program has been a “tremendous success.”

Started in 2006, the program responded to the perception that every loud party in Beacon Hill and the North End was caused by Suffolk students. “We’ve been able to ID who was responsible” for loud parties and in many cases, “it turned out not to be Suffolk students. [The program] has begun to change those perceptions.”

Suffolk pays for two police officers and a cruiser to go around the North End and Beacon Hill, according to Grealish.

Another party, hosted by Suffolk Journal Editor-in-Chief, Alex Pearlman, was busted by the Ride Along Program on May 1, 2009. After a disciplinary hearing the next week with Coyne, Pearlman was fined $100 for being the host of the party, had to take AlcoholEdu and was put on disciplinary probation. She was subsequently suspended from her Editor-in-Chief position until mid-November.

“Going along with the policy, a first-time offender should be given a warning with the promise of stricter punishments should another infraction occur,” said Pearlman. “I think that removing a student leader from their position—especially one who is overage— for hosting a noisy party where nothing illegal has taken place, is simply a bad policy.”

Upon examining the Ride Along statistics from June 2007 to May 2009, the Journal found that in May 2009, there were no “University Probation with Loss of Privileges” or “University Probations” listed for May 2009, the month Pearlman was put on probation.

A March 2007 issue Suffolk Journal highlighted discrepancies in the Ride Along statistics. The statistics for the 2006-2007 school year currently have a disclaimer that “some numbers presented have changed over time,” and were listed.

The list of sanctions for off campus violations are “Suspension,” “Deferred Suspension,” “University Probation with loss of Probation,” “University Probation,” “Warning,” “Fine,” “Parental Notification,” “Alcohol or Drug Education,” “Other Education,” “Residence Life Housing Jeopardy,” “Follow-up Meeting with DOS (Dean of Students) Staff,” “Report Disposition of Court Case,” “Apology,” “No Contact.” The Journal was unable to obtain statistics from this school year because of a change in the computer system. The most recent statistics, from August 2008 to May 2009, show that 333 students were caught by the Ride Along program.

The off-campus sanctions appear to be significantly harsher than on-campus sanctions, which include a $25 fine and housing probation. The Journal has been told of a number of incidents during which underage Orientation Leaders drank and smoked in the dorms while living there over the summer.

Both LeFort and Pearlman were over 21 when they were written up by the Ride Along Program. Pearlman was subjected to AlcoholEdu, while LeFort had to watch “Neighborhood U.”

While Coyne is not allowed to talk about specific individuals, she said that the alcohol sanctions were revised over the summer and “Neighborhood U” was introduced because it is “better for students over 21,” but she defended the use of AlcoholEdu for students over 21, saying that it is “still helpful” to educate students about drinking, no matter their age.

“[AlcoholEdu] is geared specifically toward underage kids and it’s a waste of time for people who are overage,” said Pearlman. “There are questions that are multiple choice [that are geared toward underage kids.] For example, ‘Where did you get the alcohol from?’ There was no option for ‘I’m over 21 and bought it myself.’”

“The reason [for the Ride Along Program] is to educate our students about how to be good citizens and also how to be responsible to the concerns of neighbors,” said Coyne. “The purpose is to maintain a high quality of living for the neighbors and the students.”

Vice President Stoll was unavailable for comment.