By Kevin M. Courtney, Director of Public Safety, Big Rapids, Michigan
ig Rapids, in northwest Michigan, has a population of about 10,000. It is also home to 10,000 Ferris State University students. Approximately 3,000 students live on campus and another 5,000 live in rental property in the city (the rest commute to campus from outlying areas). This concentration of people between the ages of 18 and 24 in a city of just six square miles leads to noise and party complaints from their neighbors. These complaints have been coming into the police department for years; it is not uncommon for there to be 20 cars on duty on problem weekends in a city that normally only has two officers on duty. The weekend known as Mock Rock would overwhelm the 18-person Big Rapids Police Department without assistance from state police and nearby police departments. On this weekend as many as 35 officers would be on duty in town to maintain order.
The police department began addressing the root causes of the problem in early 1995. Officers give offenders a formal written warning and then enter the information into the computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) system so that officers who respond on subsequent calls are notified of prior responses. If a responding officer discovers that a warning had been given in the past at that address, the officer issues tickets.
Unfortunately, it appeared that some of the residents of those problem addresses took the approach that police ticketing was a price of doing business. Many of the landlords involved ignored communications from the police, taking the position they had no obligation to do anything about the behavior of their tenants.
Police undertook an assessment of the scope of the problem. The review showed that 89 percent of the noise and party complaints were single events; 7 percent would require a second response; 4 percent would require three or more responses. There were seven addresses with three or more complaints and one with 13 complaints in a 12-month period.
To combat this problem, the city modified an earlier ordinance aimed at drug dealing to include nuisance parties. This ordinance has already passed a constitutional review by the Michigan Supreme Court. The ordinance requires the department to notify the property owner each time a nuisance-, noise- or drug-related complaint is investigated and substantiated at the owner's property. The accumulation of three complaints requires the director of public safety to notify the property owner and present the complaint to the city commission for a public hearing. Notice is also sent to those who filed the complaints. At the public hearing the commission decides, first, whether the property constituted a nuisance under the ordinance and, second, what if any abatement needs to take place. The ordinance grants the commission the authority to padlock a property for up to one year.
Since the ordinance has taken effect, only three addresses have accumulated three or more complaints and the noise and party complaints have dropped 14 percent. ■