Feeling unWelcome: Students express concerns with heavy police presence during school kickoff celebrations
Mount Pleasant streets filled with lights, music and people this weekend as students celebrated the start of the school year during Welcome Weekend.
With the celebration came an influx of law enforcement, as the Mount Pleasant Police Department and the Central Michigan University Police Department were among the agencies patrolling the streets.
The MPPD reported 441 calls for service from 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, until 7 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 27. The MPPD registered 653 calls for service in 2016 and 574 the year before.
This year, the MPPD issued 149 citations or arrests over the three days. There were 64 people cited or arrested for open intoxicants with 40 for minor in possession of alcohol. There were nine arrested or cited for nuisance party-hosting, eight for disorderly conduct and six for operating while intoxicated.
Last year, minor in possession totaled 70 citations or arrests and 45 for nuisance-party hosting. There were 17 citations or arrests for disorderly conduct in 2016.
CMUPD had 16 citations for minor in possession, one arrest for minor in possession, three disorderly citations, two disorderly arrests, two VCSA (drug) arrests, one warrant (from other agencies) arrest, and one operating while intoxicated arrests.
Lt. Cameron Wassman of the CMUPD said there were also five ambulance calls to campus due to highly intoxicated individuals.
"Overall, this weekend was pretty much in line with what we have seen in past years on campus," Wassman said. "From what we saw, the groups of people moving back and forth were small in size, and they did not congregate in any one area. Most of the students our officers interacted with were compliant and respectful.
"We want to thank those who followed the rules this weekend, and also thank those who may have called us, for themselves or others that needed help."
Despite the heavy police on-scene, students celebrated with friends — mainly in the north campus area north of Bellows Street and downtown.
Adam DePalma serves as president of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at CMU. The Lake Orion senior said the fraternity abstained from hosting parties this weekend to avoid any confrontation with police officers.
DePalma is glad people were safe, but believes this Welcome Weekend didn't seem to resemble those of years past. He said there was hardly any crowd in the area of Main Street other than Saturday night.
“From what I could tell, there wasn’t nearly as many ambulances or anybody really in as much trouble as it seemed in past years," DePalma said. "I think the city should lighten up. Let people have some more fun with it.”
DePalma believes police target people — more so in north campus than apartment complexes. He said there needs to be a cultural change within the community.
“The police are really there to protect you but at the same time, they need to be there to protect the students — not to be writing tickets and get people in trouble," DePalma said. "I really welcome them coming, but I wish there was more emphasis on getting students home safely and making sure there’s no one in any serious danger, rather than just handing out tickets.”
In 2014, Mount Pleasant developed a multi-year plan to address the history of violations and increasing tension among residents in the neighborhood north of CMU's campus. This area was highlighted as problematic, where owner-occupied properties and student rentals are intermingled, according to a MPPD press release. This includes the city working with local landlords, CMU and its students and to enforce ordinances more consistently.
“We are proud to be home to Central Michigan University. The students are a great asset to our community and the energy and diversity they bring strengthens the city as a whole,” said Mount Pleasant City Manager Nancy Ridley. “The students are also city residents. All residents are expected to uphold our community standards, which include respecting your neighbors and taking care of each other to ensure Mount Pleasant continues to be a safe and desirable place to live and visit.”
A difference of opinion
Three seniors, Jake Mitchell, Grace Elie and Molly Rozenboom, celebrated the weekend downtown Saturday — making a stop at the Bird Bar and Grill, 223 S. Main St.
Mitchell, a St. Clair Shores native, said Welcome Weekend is the best weekend of the year. The three friends, who all are at least 21 years of age, said visiting the bar is better than going to house parties.
“It’s been a very fun time,” Elie, of Chelsea, said of Welcome Weekend. “I have enjoyed it thoroughly.”
Rozenboom, a Howell native, said Welcome Weekend is a great time to escape her job working in the CMU Bookstore. She said Saturday’s festivities around town may have diminished due to people possibly watching the highly-anticipated boxing match in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor.
While Mitchell said he was having a “fantastic” time during Welcome Weekend, he said it has been subpar compared to previous years. He believes police presence played a factor.
“It’s a little annoying,” Mitchell said. “It’s over the top. (Police are) not very friendly.”
The increase in people downtown this weekend was welcomed by Brian Baldwin, owner of Bubba Q Barbecue. Baldwin set up shop on the corner of South Main and West Michigan streets — operating from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Baldwin said while St. Patrick’s Day is the busiest day for his business, Welcome Weekend is the biggest weekend.
“There’s definitely an influx,” Baldwin said. “Thursday night was pretty crazy (downtown)."
Throughout the year, Baldwin said mostly college students invade downtown on Thursdays. It’s a mix of students and residents on Fridays and mostly residents on Saturdays, he said. Baldwin has seen an increase in college students for Welcome Weekend, with the most popular item on his menu being the loaded turbo nachos.
“The goal is to not sell out at Welcome Weekend — the goal is to keep selling,” Baldwin said. “I want to be able to sell until the last person is fed. They go home happy and me too.”
DePalma said after Welcome Weekend, he and his fraternity are happy to be back on campus.
“I’m looking forward to having a great year," he said.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department and Fire Department were assisted by the CMUPD, CMU Dispatch, the Michigan State Police — Mount Pleasant Post, and Lakeview Post, Isabella County Central Dispatch, Department of Corrections, Mobile Medical Response, Alma Police Department, Gratiot County Sheriff’s Department, Clare Police Department, Midland Police Department and Midland County Sheriff’s Department.