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Saturday December 10th

Chapel Hill Police Dept. wants to know about your next party

<p>Law enforcement officers put out bonfires on Franklin Street after North Carolina's 76-72 victory over Duke on March 5, 2016.</p>
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Law enforcement officers put out bonfires on Franklin Street after North Carolina's 76-72 victory over Duke on March 5, 2016.

UNC and Chapel Hill announced a new program Wednesday that will allow students to register off-campus parties in hopes of reducing noise complaint citations.

The program, “Party, Police Free,” gives students the opportunity to notify the town of off-campus parties held on Friday and Saturday nights. In return, party hosts receive a warning text message or phone call if the Chapel Hill Police Department receives a noise complaint, giving them 20 minutes to either control the event or end it. If another complaint is registered after the 20 minutes, police will then dispatch an officer.

Aaron Bachenheimer, executive director of off-campus student life and community partnerships, helped establish the program over the past year after seeing its success at other universities.

“It’s an opportunity to give students the ability to take more responsibility for hosting social events that might draw guests to their houses,” Bachenheimer said. “It empowers students to be able to address those complaints and take some leadership and responsibility when hosting events in the community.”

In order to register a party, students must provide the party’s time, location and the host’s contact information in an online form. Next, students must stop by the Office of Community Involvement in Granville Towers South to finalize registration and receive “party smart” tips. 

But Bachenheimer is realistic.

He said he doesn’t expect hundreds of parties to be registered immediately. Instead, he anticipates a gradual building of trust. 

At the University of Colorado Boulder, where he first observed the program, Bachenheimer said students registered 50 parties during the program’s first year, before jumping to 250 and 500 parties in the next two years. 

“When I was 18, 19, 20 years old I would have had a little bit of a pause about, ‘Do I really want to tell the town that I’m having a party on Friday night?’” Bachenheimer said. “I think as they see that registering their party actually lessens the likelihood of a police officer showing up at their front door, rather than increase the likelihood, then that’s where the trust gets built.”

Ran Northam, Chapel Hill’s communications specialist for community safety, worked with Bachenheimer to establish the program and ensure it will be used effectively. 

“The greatest thing about this is that it's a joint effort between our multiple community partners,” Northam said. “We understand parties take place, and we want everyone to have a good time, but safety is the number one goal in all of that, along with equity. We want to make sure neighbors are treated fairly, and this allows us an opportunity for all of that to work together.”

Northam said the “Party, Police Free” program provides students with a free alternative, instead of paying the price for a citation, which can be as much as $323.

Fran Muse is the director of the Carolina Student Legal Services and said registering parties can not only help students avoid noise complaints, but other legal tangles as well. 

“When a police officer shows up at a house and students are not partying or drinking responsibly, it could just lead to some other possible issues,” Muse said. “Other charges like resisting and obstructing arrest or drunk and disorderly conduct. The idea of getting this text is to help alleviate and avoid some of those things.”

Muse, along with many of her co-workers, are alumni of the University, so advocating for students in Chapel Hill hits close to home. 

“I think the fact that we all went here, it does kind of give you a personal investment in the life and the safety and welfare of Carolina students, because we were once there and we know what that was like,” Muse said. “My goal is to keep students safe and to keep students out of trouble.”


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