The sun has barely set, and the party on North Columbia Street is just getting started.
There’s a sizable crowd already, full of students who are back from summer adventures and determined to make this last weekend before the first day of class count.
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Senior writer Sara Gregory rode with Chapel Hill Police officer Jason Bean on Friday night from 7:30 p.m. to midnight. Bean patrols an area that covers downtown Chapel Hill and as far out as Southern Village.
One drive past the house, and Chapel Hill Police officer Jason Bean knows how it will play out.
“We’ll probably be dealing with them before too long,” he says.
Just not yet. On this, the last Friday of summer, downtown Chapel Hill is almost overflowing.
Bean surveys the scene as he drives down Franklin Street, window rolled down. He joined the Chapel Hill police in February. This is his first back-to-school weekend.
Students don’t cause many problems, he says. Most of the time, they deal with police for one of two reasons: when their homes and apartments are broken into and when they’re drunk.
“People that don’t know their limits will just keep on,” Bean says.
It’s always busy before class starts, but there’s not exactly a shortage of things to do when students aren’t around. Bean loves the fast pace of patrol work — that’s what he was looking for when he left the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for about two years.
Patrolling “takes a lot more than what they teach you in the academy,” he says. Everything revolves around officer discretion and intuition.
There are lulls. Bean pulls over to talk with officer Jared Greenlee, who talks Bean into polishing his police lights. While Bean polishes, Greenlee digs through his trunk for duct tape to temporarily fix his broken headlight.
Later, they joke about the crowds on Franklin that have so far carefully avoided the imposing paving equipment that lines North Columbia at the intersection.
“We’re gonna find a kid paved over before the night’s over,” Greenlee jokes. Bean talks about how busy it is downtown, but Greenlee warns him this is nothing. Just wait, he says.
At night, officers provide backup at all traffic stops. Bean gets called out to assist another officer with a man 911 callers said was wandering in the street.
The man is shaky on his feet, his one-size-too-big shirt hanging off a lanky frame. Officers talked with him the night before, and now they’re back again. He shows them his tattoos, which are self-done and look it, except for the marijuana leaf on his right arm. His brother did that one.
“You smoke weed?” Bean asks.
“No. I’m too old to smoke weed. I’m 28,” he slurs. Bean laughs.
The man is from Randolph County, he says. “Some girls” told him Chapel Hill was a nicer place, so he came. And already, someone’s given him a six-pack of beer.
The officers leave, warning the man that if they have to come back, he’ll be spending the night in jail.
Bean circles back to North Columbia, his third time driving past the house with the party that spills into the yard and now is creeping into the road.
He tells the students to get back in the yard and radios to other officers. It’s about time to deal with it.
Contact the City Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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