“They shine lights into houses and harass students on the street.”
In early October, a group of twenty Grinnell students gathered in the backyard of 1008 High Street to talk about police presence at off-campus houses. Off-campus senator Rachel Keen ’16 and Violeta Ruiz Espigares ’15 organized the event to give students the opportunity to discuss their common experiences with the police and to inform students about their rights.
“It’s like clockwork, even when there are no parties on High Street the police are there,” Keen said. “They shine lights into houses and harass students on the street.”
Ruiz Espigares lives at 1008 High Street and is concerned with how the police approach students for seemingly indiscriminate reasons. She explained that on a Saturday night in September the police drove in front of 1008 with their lights on and came to the porch. When the residents opened the door, the police entered and told them there had been a noise complaint. The police then took the names of the residents of 1008 so they could contact them in the future if there were any more complaints.
Four days later, on Wednesday, a different police officer returned to ask for house members’ identification.
“I was eating hummus on the porch when they came on Wednesday” Ruiz Espigares said. “We weren’t committing any violations, there were no complaints. The hummus porch life isn’t wrong.”
Because there appeared to be no reason for the officer to be there, Ruiz Espigares said that they asked why he needed their names.
“He said ‘I’m not asking,’” Ruiz Espigares said, which the residents took to mean that they had no choice but give their identification to the officer. “We were very confused because we had our info taken on the Saturday when there was a complaint, but apparently he didn’t know that or something. It’s not super clear.”
Nathaniel Tingley ’15, resident of 1005 High Street, thinks that the seemingly-high level of off-campus police presence during the beginning of fall semester is nothing new.
“They do this every year,” Tingley said. “And since NSO they have been a lot less in our face. What they said to me during NSO is that they’ve been having a lot of problems right now, and last year there were problems at this time, but that the problems normally turn down.”
When asked if he senses that police policy has changed over the years, Tingley shook his head.
“I was in Joint Board three years ago when the police came and they said the same things as they did when I talked to them on my porch this year,” Tingley said. “They say that they don’t want us to not have fun—they just don’t want parties to be a nuisance or dangerous for the neighborhood.”
Neither Tingley nor Espigares Ruiz have spoken with their neighbors about how parties on High Street may disturb them.
“I’ve been playing beer die in my front all year and no neighbors have come forward to speak with me,” Tingley said. “I don’t know if that’s because they [want to talk but haven’t approached me] or if they expect it because it’s a student-dominated street.”
Tingley added that he has never seen the police shut down a party—rather they rely on their presence alone to end it.
“The police are allowed to come into houses if the door is open or if they are invited in,” Tingley said.
Ruiz Espigares said that residents of High Street houses, like all people, are liable for having intoxicated minors on their property even if they are not drinking at the time, or if the house in question did not provide the underage students with alcohol. The meeting in early October was held, in part, to inform students to whom responsibility is assigned in situations like this.
Ruiz Espigares and Keen are planning to get legal advice from a lawyer to advise them about student’s rights. They are also planning to work with Vice President of Student Affairs Iulia Iordache ’15 to communicate with the police about what the police expect. The goal is to eventually schedule a meeting between off-campus students and Chief of Police Dennis Reilly.
“We’re still planning an off-campus meeting with police for after break,” Keen said. “But first we’re working through some of the concerns and ideas raised at our picnic so we can get everyone to have the type of meeting with the police they want.”
Hannah Quicksell ’15 writes about her experience with the Grinnell Police Department’s handling of sexual harassment.