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Editorial: UB tries again to curb loutish student behavior

The problem of drunken, unruly University at Buffalo students roaming the streets of University Heights on weekend nights, especially on the first few weekends in the fall and in the last few weekends before summer break, is a serious one.

The situation, which was first documented in September 2015 by reporter Anne Neville, was unbearable for the families living in the neighborhood. The residents were plagued by extreme late-night noise, fights, thefts and vandalism, dangerously packed houses, drinking to the point of unconsciousness and roaming students vomiting, urinating and throwing trash in the front yards and on the sidewalks of the neighborhood.

For years, Buffalo police limited their involvement, patrolling the streets but often not even getting out of their cars as drunken students stumbled along the sidewalks and into the streets. UB officials also turned a blind eye to the noisy and disruptive students, whose behavior, had it happened in campus dorms, might have been met with swift and decisive action.

Residents and University Heights Collaborative members alike pointed out the obvious problem: North Campus students – some already drunk or carrying concealed alcohol – were taking the UB Stampede shuttle buses from North Campus dorms to the South Campus bus loop, from which they spilled into the neighborhood searching for underage house parties. The service was known, with good reason, as the “drunk bus.”

Last year, UB tried to get ahead of the story by announcing before the start of school that it would limit the number of buses and space out their departures from the North Campus. UB officials also instituted a few other routes to take students to business areas where they could go to movies or restaurants or shop.
Still, UB Stampede buses again lined up, one after the other, dropping off students at the South Campus bus loop.

What was different last year was that Buffalo police were out in force, moving partygoers along the sidewalks, enforcing open container laws and closing down packed underage house parties.

This year, UB officials announced that the buses would no longer pick up students in front of their North Campus dorms, but only from the Flint Road loop, near the academic area of North Campus.

The effectiveness of these steps will be apparent to residents on the opening weekends of school.

It’s safe to say that any changes are welcomed by residents, some of whom have dealt with UB officials for years and are justifiably skeptical about the university’s commitment to solving the problem.

Among those hoping for improvement is Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, an umbrella organization of neighborhood block clubs. He noted that it took years to get to this point and that the university had previously refused to make any changes.

It’s probable that a change made far from the UB campus will have the strongest effect on the neighborhood nightmare. In May, State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office had signed a consent decree with University Heights landlord Jeremy Dunn, who owns more than 50 student properties on Winspear Avenue and Northrup Place.

Dunn is now required to fix up his buildings, obtain required city certificates of occupancy and inform his tenants that they can no longer sit or stand on the sloped roofs of houses or host parties with an admission charge or that are attended by more than 40 people. In announcing the agreement, Schneiderman pointed out that between September 2014 and May 2017, Buffalo police had received more than 500 calls to 911 concerning Dunn’s properties.

In addition to the quality of life in the neighborhood, university officials should be concerned about their students in the raucous, alcohol-fueled environment.

Therefore, it’s troubling to read the comment by Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration, as the bus change was discussed. She said, “At the end of the day, if people want to do something, they’re going to find a way to do it.” The attitude should be that if further action is needed, UB will step up.

It’s difficult to imagine that requiring students to walk a short distance to catch a bus will have any significant effect on the influx of students into the neighborhood. But coupled with restrictions on house parties and a strong police presence, University Heights residents may see a little peace.

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