Alcohol fuels tensions between college students, police
October has been a bad month for college towns.
On Oct. 2, a raid by New Haven, Conn., police to break up a party by Yale University students led to claims of police brutality and excessive force.
One week later, a party by Penn State University students turned violent when a fight between two women spilled out onto the streets of State College, leaving two students with stab wounds.
Last week, Pace University football player Danroy «DJ» Henry was shot and killed by police outside a popular eatery frequented by students from the nearby Pace campus.
What they have in common is alcohol — a common component in encounters between police and college students that can fuel tensions.
«Obviously youre going to have some standard issues,» said Eugene ODonnell, professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. «Youre going to have issues about later-night activity. Youre going to have alcohol-related issues.»
The violence outside Finnegans Grill in Thornwood, N.Y., came after a celebration of the schools homecoming game, attended by about 150 people including students and members of the football team. The crowd spilled into the parking lot after 1 a.m. after a fight inside the bar. On Friday, a law enforcement source told The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News that Henry had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13%, exceeding the legal limit of 0.08%.
It was hardly the first run-in between police and Pace students. In November 2000, several students were among eight men who trashed a campus townhouse in retaliation for an earlier fight at a local bar.
And on April 25, 2008, a 21-year-old student was charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend in her dorm room during a drunken rampage.
«Pace is like a little city unto itself, and they do require police resources,» said Mount Pleasant (N.Y.) Police Chief Louis Alagno. «Were called there mostly for things such as motor vehicle accidents and aided cases, but we also respond for criminal incidents. There are burglaries, larcenies and the occasional sex crime or assault. It does require police resources.»
You dont have to tell police in New Rochelle, N.Y., a city with three colleges — College of New Rochelle, Iona College and Monroe College.
«Well have pockets of disturbances,» said New Rochelle police Capt. Robert Gazzola, head of the departments police services division. «I dont think theres any lasting animosity between the police department, the Iona College students, the Monroe College students. A lot of it is isolated incidents that perk up and we have to respond.»
The city, plagued for years by rowdy behavior in local bars tackled the problem years ago by passing a stricter «cabaret law» that allowed police to go after and target troublesome bars.
Police in Mount Pleasant and Pleasantville, where most Pace watering holes are located, have enforced underage drinking laws for years — a common tactic in college towns.
But the bar at the center of a fatal shooting had no recent history of problems involving students, according to state and local law enforcement.
Finnegans seemed an unlikely place for a violent encounter between police and celebrating college students last weekend.
Pace students interviewed by The Journal News said they generally had not had negative encounters with local police. Some went so far as to say they were shocked to hear of the violence outside Finnegans last weekend.
«I wouldnt say theyre aggressive, theyre just doing their job,» said student John Tripodi. «I guess what they did (outside Finnegans) was a little excessive, but if I was him I dont know what I would have done.»
But Megan Murphy, a freshman accounting major at the Mount Pleasant college, called the police account of the shooting «ridiculous.»
«Its all too iffy right now. Im not sure,» Murphy said. «I wasnt there so I cant say what exactly happened. (Henry) probably just panicked.»