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The party’s over?
Using Operation Student Shield, the city and the colleges are teaming up to bust house parties

One-hundred strong partied at 27 Pratt Street last Friday night, where the police showed up at 11:17 pm to confiscate six 30-racks of Pabst Blue Ribbon (and five empty 30s) from five underage residents.

At one o’clock in the morning on a September Saturday, 30 revelers milled around outside 39 Pratt and Boston patrolmen found a homemade bar, five empty kegs, and a sign advertising prices for beer, Jell-O shots, and mixed drinks in the basement, according to a police report.

It could be beer pong on Ashford, a dance party up by Boston College, three kegs in Mission Hill.

The college party, whatever its incarnation, has always pitted students against disgruntled neighborhood residents and exasperated cops. But this year, the battle is pitched at a higher level: partiers face more-coordinated opposition, consisting of police officers, university officials, and representatives of agencies such as Boston’s Inspectional Services Department and Brookline’s Health Department. Their efforts have been gathering steam for about eight years, and are now peaking citywide.

Reflecting that trend, Mayor Thomas Menino last year tapped Captain William Evans, a college-party expert who oversees Allston-Brighton’s District 14 police force, to guide the crackdown on parties in neighborhoods such as Mission Hill and the North End (where Emerson and Suffolk students were recently blasted in the press for late-night rowdiness). There’s also Operation Party Time in Dorchester and Mattapan, which was established to combat after-hours drinking and DJ-ing at non-college parties in those neighborhoods. And the popular Cops-in-Shops program, in which undercover, underage police cadets try to buy alcohol from local liquor stores, has been successful in combating underage alcohol purchasers, as well as fake-ID users.

"Saying, ‘boys will be boys,’ or ‘girls will be girls,’ doesn’t pass anymore," says Brookline Community Service Captain John O’Leary, explaining what’s behind the energetic crackdown. "What we’re just trying to get through to them is: they’re in a family neighborhood as opposed to a college campus."


"Ashford Street is party-central of BU West," says 21-year-old Boston University student Ryan McLaughlin, motioning to the cluster of streets nestled between Brighton Avenue and the Allston train yard. McLaughlin, a junior, fled the dorms this September to pile in with nine other guys in a house on Ashford.

At most freshman orientations, students like McLaughlin are informed of university rules related to underage drinking and drug use. Such information is also included in rarely read student handbooks, and reiterated by resident assistants if a student lives on-campus. If they indulge in such activities in their dorm rooms, students know they’re in danger of a tour through the university’s judicial-review process.

What most students don’t understand, however, is that the rules don’t change outside the dorm — they actually double up, with students having to answer to both the university and the local cops. And that double-teaming has intensified since Boston started winning sports championships.

Last year, in response to the violent rowdiness after the Super Bowl and the American League Championship series, Mayor Menino established "Operation Student Shield," a citywide initiative based on the collaboration of Allston-Brighton police officers, Boston College, and Boston University. The operation, which will have been in effect for one year this winter, calls for a zero-tolerance approach to off-campus misbehavior, along with more arrests, higher fines, and stricter university consequences for offenses such as public drinking and disruptive parties.

"Not only do we take action, but the school takes action," says Evans. "Arrest seems to be the only thing that sends a message that we’re not going to tolerate it. I don’t care what the court does with it just as long as the judge says, ‘Don’t let it happen again,’ and the school takes some kind of action."

To that end, Evans calls community-affairs liaisons at BU, BC, and other universities on Monday mornings and reports public disturbances, disorderly houses, or underage-drinking arrests. Any student reported will have to deal with the university judicial process; the consequences range from no action to expulsion. Colleges don’t release information about who’s expelled, and why. But BU and BC officials say that while there have been some suspensions, no student has been kicked out of school for partying too hard.

Both BC and BU also send school officials out on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, to let loud students know that "the next knock will be a Boston police officer," says BC spokesman Jack Dunn. "Students are smart — they wouldn’t be at Boston College if they weren’t — and they understand the ramifications of a friendly face telling them they’re in danger of being arrested."

Regardless of the judicial outcome, a letter is mailed to whoever pays that student’s tuition — usually mom and dad. "If there’s anything [students] don’t like, it’s their parents knowing that they’re acting up," Evans says. By the same token, "parents love it," says BU’s community-relations director Joe Walsh.

Tellingly, the bigger schools scramble to highlight their party-busting techniques. Last year, BC won a city-achievement award for its community partnership with the Boston Police Department; BU claims to be the school with the most oversight of its off-campus population. This self-approbation on the part of local universities is an effort to beef up their good-neighbor reputations — a smart move given ongoing criticism of their financial contributions to the city in lieu of the taxes they don’t have to pay as nonprofit organizations. (Northeastern, however, seems less politic than other local colleges: it pays proportionately less than other major universities in the city, and has yet to get as involved in Mission Hill as BC and BU are in Allston-Brighton.)

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Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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