Police Chief Touts Benefits of Decriminalizing Nuisance Parties

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The city of Athens will move forward to introduce changes to its existing nuisance party ordinance to decriminalize first time offenders.

Athens City Councilman Steve Patterson, who also serves on the Joint Police Advisory Council, said the proposal to change the penalties associated with the law stemmed from a JPAC discussion. JPAC is comprised of the police chiefs from Athens Police and Ohio University Police, as well as other city and university representatives and residents.

The proposed change would decriminalize the penalty for first time offenders, making it an administrative fine of $250. If not paid within 30 days, the person cited could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Criminal charges could surface for repeat offenders.

“We thought this was the right way to go about enforcing the nuisance ordinance because it typically affects more students than non-students and it’s fair that they not have a criminal record for having a party that gets a little out of hand,” Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle told Council on Monday evening.

Pyle said the city has had “great success” in decriminalizing its noise ordinance a few years ago. He said there are very few repeat offenders when it comes to nuisance parties. Pyle noted that the police department is looking for compliance to shut down nuisance parties, not to give young people a criminal record.

Councilwoman Michele Papai said that “fairness” is evident in the rewording of the nuisance party penalties.

“Young people sometimes… the learning curve is a little longer,” she said.

Pyle said he watched a video on Monday morning of a over 100 students at a party on Palmer Street Saturday night urging a person to dive off a roof, which the person did.

“I watched that video and we’re talking here today about decriminalizing that kind of behavior because we’re as much a teaching organization as we are an enforcement organization,” he said. “We look at that behavior first and feel anger that that kind of thing is going on in our community, and then we come to the realization that these are young people who are affected, and possibly inebriated, by alcohol and sometimes they just need someone to say that’s not acceptable behavior.”

Councilwoman Chris Fahl said the proposed changes would give students the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions without getting a criminal record.

“We’re all citizens and we all live together so let’s work together,” she said.

Council President Jim Sands praised the proposed amendment.

“As a member of City Council and a longtime resident of the city of Athens, I’m really proud of administration and the police department who looks at decriminalizing a record for students but also taking action to tone down dangerous behavior,” he said.

The legislation could be introduced next week.