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For college students caught partying, a punishment that stays off the books

Posted by boston.com  February 28, 2014 11:36 AM

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Jasper Craven

Community service equipment stored in the basement of the D-14 police barracks

On a recent Saturday morning in Brighton, Boston Police Officer Jerry Ajemian drove his cruiser down a quiet Gerald Road, pointing at houses that have hosted some of the city’s loudest college parties. On this street — a half-mile from Boston College — only a handful of addresses was spared from his problem list.

“If there are 100 kids we are going to write up the owners and the tenants,” Ajemian said, explaining how officers react when they encounter noisy gatherings. “But if there are 13 or 14 kids and the music is a little loud, we will just say. ‘Hey guys, please turn it down.’ ”

But, Ajemian added, “If we have to come back there are going to be problems.”

The consequences students face when charged with throwing raucous parties in Boston include fines, community service hours, and the establishment of a criminal record.

Students can even be arrested under the Massachusetts General Laws as a “keeper a disorderly house”— the most common charge filed for house parties. That's what happened to four Boston University students, who landed in jail recently after allegedly hosting a loud, large party in Allston. A judge revoked their bail for violating their probation from an earlier party.

Party charges remain on record even if they are dismissed in court. And with criminal background checks now commonplace for most prospective employees, Ajemian said these charges could haunt students once they graduate.

“Even if they are dismissed, if I’m an employer I’m going to wonder if I should take a chance on this kid,” Ajemian said. “How serious did he take school if he went before a judge for partying too much?”

So about two years ago, officers in the Allston-Brighton police district came up with what they see as a less severe punishment for holding house parties: 30 hours of community service completed outside the court system. No charges are filed, and a criminal record is not established.

While Ajemian was touring problem streets, five BC students were cleaning windows and dusting balusters a few blocks away at the Presentation School Community Center in Oak Square. They were all working off their party hours.

“We haven’t thrown any big parties since, but people still come over on the weekends,” said Brett, a junior at BC who lives on Kirkwood Road.

“I know a lot of people who have had to serve these hours,” he continued as he swept the basement floor of the community center.

All the students only provided their first names, explaining that the whole reason they were serving these hours was so the notion of them as reckless partyers wouldn’t follow them after graduation.

Brett said he became unfairly ensnarled in the justice system for a party he did not attend.

Last October, Brett said, his roommates planned a big, wild party. He said they covered windows and soundproofed the walls as best they could in the hours before guests arrived.

Hoping to avoid trouble, Brett said he went on campus to watch a Red Sox game with friends during the gathering at his home. When he returned at around 1 a.m. that night, cops were breaking up the party.

Brett’s status as a tenant at the house brought him in front of the Brighton District Court’s Clerk Magistrate, along with his roommates. The clerk offered the police service program instead of a path through the court system, and all the tenants chose the less severe option.

Brett said he was glad to avoid any charges, but felt unfairly punished for a crime he had no involvement in.

“Since I had nothing to do with the party and I still got in trouble I think this is an absolute waste of my time,” he said. “But if I was involved, I could see how this is a good way to give back.”

Another student, Junho, a junior at BC studying chemistry, said it was unfair for police to target college students for blowing off steam on the weekends—a tradition he said happens everywhere.

“I do understand that we were throwing a party but so is everyone else that’s going to college around the United States,” he said. “Here in Brighton there is not much going on, crime-wise, so they treat parties more seriously than they should.”

Police details are beefed up every weekend in student neighborhoods in Allston/Brighton. Boston College and Boston University both pay BPD for increased party details every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. BC hires two two-man cars with a supervisor each weekend; BU hires one two-man car.

Allston-Brighton’s community service officers started the diversionary program in the spring of 2012. Though this one particular Saturday was composed strictly of Boston College students serving time, Ajemian said students at Boston University, Berklee College of Music, and Emmanuel College have all gone through the program. Since 2012, roughly 350 students have worked various jobs —from shoveling snow to painting murals— towards clearing their names.

“They do good work,” said Kevin Carragee, a board member at the Presentation School center where students frequently serve their hours. “It’s helpful to us and we have never had difficulty. I think the kids realize it’s an opportunity, and the alternative is more difficult for them.”

Though the consensus among the BC students was their punishment was a bit too severe for the crime, they were all respectful while working at the Presentation House. A few volunteers and students even swapped wild college stories, and talked about how the college lifestyle is somewhat incompatible with those of the broader Boston population.

“It’s a tough situation,” Brett said, “because there are kids who party, but real people do need to go to sleep.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

community service 2.JPG

Jasper Craven

Community service equipment stored in the basement of the D-14 police barracks

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