Eugene targets 'party central' in University neighborhood

Eugene targets 'party central' in University neighborhood »Play Video
An image from video of police action in fall 2010 in neighborhoods near the University of Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. - "Party central" faces stepped up police presence as students return to town ahead of fall term at the University of Oregon.

Police plan to book people caught with open containers of alcohol into the Springfield Jail until they can post bail instead of just issuing citations.

And city and neighborhood leaders have also proposed stiffer "social host" laws to punish not only the people who throw parties where people under 21 drink, but possibly their landlords or property managers, too.

"There are definitely kids who cause trouble," junior Harlan Mechling told KVAL News, "but I don't think the people that have the parties should be held responsible for that. If something like that passed, it puts me in a bind because I'm on a full ride scholarship, I've got a lot to lose, I can't put myself in that situation."

That is the idea, said Mike Kinnison, the City of Eugene's neighborhood services program manager.

"There also needs to be consequences for undesirable behavior and it has to be consequences that motivate people to change as well," he said, "so I think that taking that approach can be effective."

The social host penalties came out of a discussion that started in March 2010 at a livability summit.

The South University Neighborhood Association and other neighborhood groups near campus have worked since then with the city and university to develop strategies to curb loud parties, alcohol consumption and other problem behaviors.

"Social host laws are being used to good effect in other communities that have universities and have similar conflicts that we're having here," Kinnison said. Such a law "holds persons responsible for hosting unruly gatherings at a residence typically where there is underage drinking."

City and state law enforcement also plan to do targeted "party patrols" in the neighborhoods along Ferry Street between 13th and 18th avenues. The area saw drunken riots in both 2008 and 2010, and police report an uptick in the last 5 years in underage drinking.

"The whole 13th through 17th, Hilyard through High Street, that's party central," Mechling told KVAL News. "You'll just see like a hundred freshman, just walking down these streets, they don't know where they're going."

Oregon junior Alex Noordhoek said "party central" shouldn't come as a surprise to city and university officials.

"They squeeze all these students into this little neighborhood in between I don't know, 18th and 13th, and there's gonna be some problems of some sort," Noordhoek said. "I think when kids get drunk they're going to forget about (the law) instantly, and if they want to throw a party, if they're the kind of people that are going to let their party get out of control, it's gonna happen probably no matter what."

Police plan to do more educational outreach to students in the area about alcohol and city and state law, said Melinda Kletzok, a Eugene Police Department spokeswoman.

New university students under 21 will be required to complete an alcohol education course.

And police plan to hit the streets in "party patrols" on weekend nights, especially the weekend before fall term begins.

Tharon Hutchinson works in the area. She liked the sound of the idea but was skeptical of any long term changes.

"It might prevent them for some time," she said, "but I think they'll just go back to it because students are going to be students."

But police plan to step up potential penalties allowed under the law. Instead of issuing citations for jailable offenses, police will now start arresting people for open containers, prohibited noise, furnishing alcohol to a minor, interfering with a police officer and other violations.

Offenders will be taken to the Springfield Jail until they can post bail. >>> List of alcohol offenses

"If you're trying to enforce stuff like that, you're just going to piss off a lot of students," Mechling predicted. "The party will continue. This is Eugene, Oregon. This is 13th and Ferry; this is party central."