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Back to Archives | Back to May 2005 Contents 

Community Programs - Homecoming High Jinks: House Rolling

Peter R. Paulding, Chief of Police, Gulf Breeze, Florida

long-standing high school tradition in many communities that accompanies homecoming week and the homecoming dance is late-night house rolling, which involves secretly covering someone’s house and trees with bathroom tissue. In Gulf Breeze, house rolling had reached a crisis level.

An appreciation of the depth of the feeling about rolling, as it is known, in Gulf Breeze is important. Gulf Breeze is a young city. It was incorporated in 1962. The practice of rolling began soon after the city came into being. Each high school class engaged in the practice and it became a tradition. Rolling confers status on students who can roll a house without detection and on homeowners whose houses are rolled, which is a validation of one’s popularity. Rolling was so ingrained in Gulf Breeze that some parents even drove students if they were too young to drive.

Rolling occurs in the very late hours, and students travel through the city in carloads and caravans, park down the street from the target, and sneak through the yards to the target without being detected. After the house and trees are rolled, the students flee the area. It was a rather harmless and benign activity – in the beginning. The mischief of rolling the trees would often have to be addressed by the student who lived in the target house. The trespass that occurred was akin to that of Halloween trick-or-treaters.

It All Changed

As time went on, vandalism became more prevalent. The subterfuge of being out late to roll excused many students from the scrutiny of their parents. Some took advantage of the anonymity to settle scores and fulfill malicious intentions. Some threw lawn furniture in pools, spray-painted cars, broke car windows, scratched cars using keys, and stole property. Some offenders were freezing paintballs and shooting out car windows.

Fearing vandalism or theft, some vigilant homeowners began confronting youngsters in their yards. Several students were confronted by weapon-wielding homeowners and were in genuine jeopardy of injury or death without realizing it. One homeowner said to the arresting officer when he was brought in for assaulting students with a firearm, “I almost shot him.” That homeowner had confronted several students by detaining them at gunpoint. He was armed with a laser-equipped Glock 9mm handgun.

Early Police Response

Police tried for several years to curtail the vandalism and other crimes by increasing patrols and remaining as vigilant as possible during the week of homecoming. But the number of vandalism and malicious mischief complaints increased steadily until peaking in October 2000.

The school resource officer made significant progress in 2001 when he conferred with school officials and arranged for detention for those caught out during homecoming week with toilet paper or in groups in the neighborhoods. Patrol officers conducted field interviews of those caught out in neighborhoods with large amounts of toilet paper. Their names were turned in to the school principal and the students would receive Saturday detention.

The results of the school resource officer’s work were encouraging. Incidents of vandalism decreased by 50 percent during the month of October 2001 from that of October 2000. But even after this significant reduction police were receiving five times as many vandalism complaints in October as in other months. Then two events occurred that required a different response.

Parents’ Legal Action: The first occurrence that required a change in our response was the threat from parents of students to bring legal action against the school for giving detention for activities not related to school. The school’s legal counsel advised that the challenges might be sustained and recommended a cessation of the school detention practice.

Gun-Wielding Home Owners: The second and far more urgent event was the confrontation of students by adults wielding guns and other weapons. The incidents occurred on the same night and involved two separate groups of students and two different adults. Police needed a plan that would remove the students from harm’s way.

Engaging the Stakeholders

Gulf Breeze has a strong commitment to the safety of its citizens and the youth in particular. There is a school resource officer in every school in the city. The recreation facilities are extraordinary, and the presence of many activities for teenagers contributes to a low delinquency rate.

The house-rolling activity was so ingrained in the social structure of the community, that it was felt the best measure of success was to prevent a further escalation of the problem. The initiative was designed to be fully inclusive of all stakeholders with the goal of determining some root causes of the problem and meaningful responses that would affect this activity in a positive way. To that end, a task force was formed comprising student representatives from each grade level, the school principal and teachers, parents, the media, concerned citizens, other law enforcement agencies, and representatives from city management. The task force comprised approximately 40 members.

The task force had two goals: (1) to eliminate the threat of danger to the students and (2) to reduce vandalism. Given the community’s approval of rolling and the complete integration of this activity in the social fabric of Gulf Breeze, police felt that this project would be a long-term one and would require a significant commitment from all parties to bring it under control.

Curtailing Rolling

In 2002 Gulf Breeze engaged all stakeholders in the problem-resolution effort. The task force began to expose the extent and severity of the problem and then to develop a response to the issue. The task force began meeting in late 2001 and met throughout the school year and into the fall of 2002. Although each alternative proposed was dependent upon the proponents’ perspective, the final solution satisfied the stakeholders and is controlling the problem.

The police proposed increased patrols and a curfew that could be enforced with police action. The students proposed rewards such as free corsages, limo rides, and tuxedos as well as additional tardy passes. The school administrators had tried to curb the action through assignment of detention. Some parents could not understand why any action was needed at all.

A model that was adopted and pursued was the prom promise. In response to drinking-related fatalities, the school had adopted a program that encouraged students to sign a pledge not to drink and then provided significant rewards for those who signed and stayed at the prom. Students were locked in, and then a great many activities were provided to them to keep them entertained and active throughout the prom night. Students were not allowed to leave, and the result was a cessation of teenage drinking-related problems.

The homecoming pledge was created by the students, law enforcement planned to double patrols, the press provided coverage of the program, and the school administration supported the plan with the possibility of exclusion from the homecoming dance for violators.

The plan was designed to get general compliance from the students that they would not be out late and would not engage in dangerous or criminal behavior. By working closely with student representatives to create the response plan, police and other officials helped make the plan acceptable to the student body. Incentives were created to get the students to sign a pledge that they agreed not to be out after 11:00 p.m. and not to vandalize or disrespect others’ property. The school administrators offered an additional tardy pass to those who signed the pledge. Nearly 100 percent of eligible students signed up. Students who signed the pledge indicated that they would adhere to the agreement. The agreement also made clear to students that violators of the pledge would face the possibility of being banned from the homecoming dance.

Students pointed out that there was a lot of peer pressure to engage in house rolling. Students stated that if “my friends don’t go out, then I won’t go either.” Therefore, if a majority of a social group signed the pledge and adhered to it, chances were good the entire group would effectively be prevented from going out rolling.

The police chief and the high school principal educated the parents during school orientation. The problem and the proposed response were laid out for them to understand that the overriding concern was the safety of their children. A letter was mailed home to each family outlining the efforts and responses and sought parental cooperation in keeping the students home during the late hours.

The police chief, the school principal, and the school resource officer also addressed the student peer leaders. The meeting outlined the problem and the danger that the students faced and our proposed response. Peer leaders’ feedback was sought and their questions addressed. They bought into the plan and were recruited to encourage their fellow students to sign the pledge and to talk with their peers about the dangers of the rolling and vandalism.

Data analysis underscored the success of the program in 2002. By using those results and repeating the implementation phase of the program again in 2003, Gulf Breeze was able to measure the same successful results. Data shows an 83 percent reduction in vandalism for homecoming month, and, most importantly, there have been no incidents of assaults on our youngsters.

For more information, write to Chief Peter R. Paulding, Gulf Breeze Police Department, 311 Fairpoint Drive, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561; call him at 850-934-5121; send him fax at 850-934-5127; or send him an e-mail message at


From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 5, May 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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