By Jordan Missal
Breaking up noisy college parties was once a frequent part of Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Sgt. Hugh Ferguson’s job.
But things seem to be getting better. Ferguson says he hasn’t responded to a complaint about Washington and Lee University students’ party noise since September.
“We tell the students, ‘If you police yourselves and make your neighbors happy, we don’t get complaints,’” Ferguson said.
A community effort
Ferguson gives some of the credit for the improvement to the Campus Community Coalition. Students, administrators, law enforcement and neighbors have joined to cut down on the number of parties that receive late night visits from police. The coalition was established in 2006.
Washington and Lee senior Sam Campbell is one of three tri-chairs of the coalition this year. He said the group holds open forums twice a year, where community members are invited to attend to share progress, voice concerns and ask questions.
“In the fall, myself and (W&L senior) Mark Sanders met with the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Department about how to mitigate noise in the county,” Campbell said. “We believe this led to significant decreases in noise violations and has helped both sides of the table.”
The coalition also organized a master list of representatives from each of the most popular off-campus party houses. The list includes each person’s phone number and is distributed to neighbors. They are using the list to call residents of the houses before going to the police.
Police in Lexington agree that the situation has improved.
Improvement in Lexington
“We’ve come a long way and the relationship has gotten a lot better,” Captain A.M. Miller said.
Miller said his department is aware that students are beginning to host more parties in town, rather than in the county. Miller thinks that’s a good idea because it should cut down on the likelihood that students will drive after drinking.
Miller said his officers will usually warn students if a neighbor makes a noise complaint. If students fail to control the party, officers will write a summons.
Rockbridge County has an ordinance that regulates amplified music, including loudspeakers and live performances, after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
Most parties deputies have responded to are on Windfall Hill near the SPCA, at what students call the Pole Houses along Furrs Mill Road, and at the Cabins, off Route 60 just west of the Washington and Lee campus.
Ferguson said that whenever a neighbor calls deputies, they have to go to the scene to ensure the noise is turned down. Typically, they will issue citations only if people are drinking in front of the officers.
Officers can also issue citations for littering.
“People are walking from house to house with red solo cups, and then you see the underage people throwing them down on the ground,” Ferguson said. “And that’s a littering issue.”
During Washington and Lee’s orientation week last September, a party at the Cabins brought deputies shortly after 11 p.m. Washington and Lee Junior Tim Joyce, who lives there, spoke to deputies that night.
“When the cops arrived to my house,” Joyce said, “we talked in a civil manor and made sure the music would be turned down.”