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At SWT, partyers learning respect

American-Statesman (08/29/2002)

By Jeremy Schwartz

Police hope program encourages students to be good citizens

SAN MARCOS — Wild college parties have been a fact of life here for as long as many people can remember. City officials are hoping it won’t be that way in the future.

In the first initiative of its kind here, San Marcos police are speaking to all incoming Southwest Texas State University freshmen, hoping to persuade them to have some sympathy for their neighbors and to party a little less hearty.

The campaign aims to let students know they are part of a larger community — a city of neighborhoods, businesses and hard-working people — and not merely in the stomping grounds of SWT.

“If we give them a respect for the community, they won’t (abuse) it,” said Cmdr. Carl H. Deal, the designer of the campaign and himself a SWT graduate. “Even if it translates to 10 percent better behavior, that will translate to 280 less calls.”

San Marcos police responded to 2,800 calls for loud or out-of-control parties last year. The city has taken a tough stand on the parties, which reached their crescendo with a 2,500-person Halloween bash in the Sagewood neighborhood.

In the spring, the City Council enacted some of the state’s strictest party-noise ordinances. They include levying hefty fines on party hosts, making landlords accountable by threatening to declare their properties a nuisance, and allowing police to cut off electricity to particularly rambunctious parties. Police said Wednesday that they turned off power at a party last week — the first use of the ordinance.

Officials say the student campaign is the friendlier side of those efforts and potentially the most effective. The centerpiece of the presentation, which most of the school’s 5,000 freshmen have seen, is a 15-minute slide show meant to give students a sense of their place in the city.

Set to acid jazz and dramatic Aaron Copland compositions, the slide show depicts bucolic scenes of San Marcos life — children playing Little League ball, landmarks and businesses, and life along the San Marcos River. Some slides contain admonishments. One reads, “Young People See How You Behave.” Another tells students to “Value Other People's Property As If It Were Your Own.” Police also are running commercials and newspaper ads to get their message out.

John Garrison, dean of students at SWT, said the presentations have gotten a good reception from freshmen, and that student groups, including fraternities, would likely be shown the presentation as well.

“It gives a little perspective that there's a bigger community around the school,” Garrison said.

Janet Spradley, a freshman from Tyler, said the presentation showed her some things in San Marcos of which she wasn’t aware. But still, she said, “I feel like I'm in a bubble. It's hard to step back and realize there are people who live here. If I lived here, I would be so annoyed.”

Police say the program will take three or four years to be truly effective. By then, they hope, students such as Spradley will get the message and pass it on to tomorrow’s freshmen.