The Arizona Desert Lamp

Red Tags in the Ocean State

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 6 August 2009
Apparently, this pool has a capacity greater than five people.

Apparently, this pool has an occupancy capacity greater than five people.

From the Washington Examiner (via the AP):

The punishment, renters and homeowners in this beach town say, is tantamount to a scarlet letter: A large orange sticker plastered by police on homes that host raucous parties.

Police have cited more than 300 homes since 2005 under a town law aimed at curbing rowdy gatherings — especially among off-campus students from the nearby University of Rhode Island — and helping officers and neighbors more easily flag problem properties.

. . .

The law was modeled after a similar ordinance in Tucson, Ariz., intended to rein in underage drinking among University of Arizona students, said Tucson city prosecutor Alan Merritt.

Mr. Merritt, for better or worse, is unmitigatedly wrong in his assertion – the Rhode Island law precedes the existence of the Red Tag program, which didn’t start until 2007. Yet if Merritt is exactly wrong – i.e. the UA law was modeled off of the URI approach – then we might be getting a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

The scale of this operation is pretty astounding. Narragansett’s non-college population stands at 16,361, and the total number of college students at URI – many of which live on-campus – is 19,095. So far, the UA – despite claiming that the program would “have opportunities to share aggregate data” – has not released any data on total red tags; or, for that matter, any sort of evidence showing the efficacy of this program. It would be nice for some sort of report on red-tagging, but don’t your breath waiting. Yet it would be surprising if the Tuscon Police Department had gone this hog-wild in tagging – yet.

The good news, however, is that Rhode Islanders are opposing this policy, and the legal opposition is led by the ACLU. From an article on the matter back in July, the URI policy seems to share the same insipid connection between civil infractions and academic citations (even though the policy was originally enacted by the Town Council):

In September 2007, the Narragansett police determined that a house on Southwest Road, where two URI students lived, posed a public nuisance and placed an orange sticker on the door, court records show. The students contended that their eviction, months later, was because of the sticker and that one was suspended from playing in two college hockey games as a result.

The following April, three more students landed before URI’s disciplinary board after being charged with violating the ordinance. Two landlords also claimed they were not able to rent their houses because of the stickers. [emphasis added – EML]

The last sentence, though is really important, and is a point emphasized in the Examiner article – renters are really furious about this, and in all likelihood are the only ones who care enough about the consequences to take actual action to end this. It is not from the benevolence of legislators that we have civil liberties, but from their own retrospective self-interest.

Thus, we have students arguing things like this:

David Keach, a fellow URI student who moved into the house later that year, said he believes the sticker put the property on the police department’s radar, encouraging officers to find additional infractions. Months later, the tenants were each fined $300 after another house party, though that penalty is being appealed.

The stickers, Keach said, are to say “that these people are disturbing the peace, they’re a public nuisance.”

“But who’s to say that?” he asked. “The police? They’re the ones who decide who’s the public nuisance? Shouldn’t it be the people who live right next to them? Shouldn’t it be the people … actually affected by it?”

Nothing better than a crucible on Country Club Rd., and “community red tags” issued for laviscious behavior. Plus ca change…

Image courtesy of Flickr user Nieve44.

One Response

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  1. Nickolas Seibel said, on 7 August 2009 at 12:46 am

    Evan, I should point out that the City of Tucson’s “Red Tag” ordinance has been in effect since 1996. The date you found on the Dean’s website was when the “cooperative arrangement” between the UA and TPD began… prior to that, red tags were solely the business of the City. I remember only because I was around for the brief uproar that ensued when the UA decided to discipline students for off-campus offenses.

    I don’t know what happened with the case, but our local chapter of the ACLU sued over the Tucson law as well — I’m still awaiting the day when someone — the AZDW, perhaps? — will lead the charge to bring some sanity, or at least fairness, to the red tag ordinance. After all, students are citizens too…

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