By the numbers
By David Loomis
INDIANA – In March 2012, IUPatty’s was born as a boozy, unsanctioned, St. Patrick’s Day bash organized by and for undergraduates at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The event coincided with the largest enrollment in the school’s history, when IUP admitted 15,379 students, doubling the borough’s year-round resident population.
In October 2013, Homecoming “rowdiness” prompted borough councilwoman Nancy Jones to campaign for re-election on a platform of controlling students who annually mobbed her Fisher Avenue neighborhood near the IUP campus. She won re-election and the council presidency. Student enrollments began to tip down.
In March 2014, IUPatty’s turned violent. The local daily described it as a “massive, uncontrolled mob scene that dominated social media.” IUP enrollments continued to drop.
For IUPatty’s 2017, police reported two shootings that left one dead and three wounded.
But by IUPatty’s 2018, the event was mostly peaceful and non-newsworthy. Enrollment had declined by more than a quarter in six years.
Enrollment declines at IUP – with no end yet in sight — are “the main reason” for a broad decline in borough crime stats during the academic year’s two big party weekends, borough police Chief William C. Sutton said during interviews in his office on Dec. 7 and 11.
BOROUGH POLICE DATA for total calls for service — a broad measure of police activity — show that monthly calls during March and October (the months of the big party weekends) dropped during the five-year period from 2014-2018. From March 2014 to March 2018 (including IUPatty’s weekends), calls declined by more than 4 percent. From October 2014 to October 2018 (including Homecoming weekends), calls dropped 6.5 percent.
Indiana borough police calls for service
Month 2014 2018 % +/-
March 735 704 -4.2 %
October 753 704 -6.5 %
Source: Indiana Borough Police Department, monthly activity reports
Moreover, disorderly-gathering busts during March 2014 totaled 13, police data show. By March 2018, the number was down to three. For Homecoming 2018, the number dropped to two.
Calls for service involving the campus once represented 40 percent of borough police activity, Sutton said. Now, the figure is 17 percent – “an incredible decrease,” he added.
SUTTON, 62, IS SET TO RETIRE Jan. 15 after more than four decades in police work and an enlistment in the Navy. They include 18 years as chief here, five of which included double-duty as manager of the 2.5-square-mile borough.
He balanced plain speaking with a concern for unintentional feather-ruffling as he reflected on trends in police stats for peak party periods during recent academic years in Indiana borough. Among factors discussed by Sutton:
- Police “omnipresence,” in which officers from state and local agencies swarm the zone – on the ground, in the air, on horseback — during IUP party weekends.
- Expungement, a state law that allows first-time offenders – mostly college kids here – to wipe their records clean and avoid blots on their background checks. This year, about 200 borough arrests will be expunged, borough police data show; in 2015, nearly 300 were expunged. Sutton also linked the one-third decline in expungement applications to a comparable decline in university enrollments.
- Party-pooping students. “Students are too lazy to party,” Sutton said. “They don’t have the energy to make floats for Homecoming.”
Another anecdotal measure of student chill is the number interested in criminology or crime reporting, whom he once welcomed to his office. Their interest has waned, he said.
“The environment has changed,” Sutton said.
ON THE OTHER HAND, Sutton said assaults, thefts and drug offenses remain disturbingly high. But those October year-to-date rates also have declined since 2014, the borough police data show. In October 2018, for example, year-to-date assaults numbered 182; in October 2018, assaults numbered 158, a 13 percent drop.
Still, Sutton expressed concern about the numbers, which he again linked to the university.
“Indiana borough would not have these levels of assaults absent IUP,” he said. “Our assaults are high because we have a high level of that age group, and because they like to drink. It makes us look bad.”
SUTTON ALSO SEES declining university enrollments reflected in for-sale and for-rent signs blooming in front yards borough-wide. They can complicate efforts to recruit officers for the police force — and efforts to sell his home in the borough and move to Colorado in a few years. That prompts a benediction for the borough’s future:
“Build this place up to be a place where people want to be,” Sutton said. “The desire to come here is not that great.”
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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