College students have been back for two weeks and this has police beefing up their patrols. Students say the practice singles them out, but police say every college town does it, and for good reason. WHSV found out what both sides had to say on the subject.
It's called the party patrol. Five officers from Harrisonburg's Special Operations Unit and four from the JMU police patrol around JMU and Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg on weekends, looking for alcohol related offenses.
"The first weekend there were in excess of 300 charges placed on Friday and Saturday night," says Lieutenant Richard Sites of the Special Operations Unit. "This weekend, the 2nd weekend after JMU's return that number's greatly went down to less than 200."
These officers are in addition to the regular patrol officers assigned to other parts of town. Much of their pay comes from a grant to combat alcohol related offenses. But students at JMU say the party patrol unfairly singles them out.
"The first weekend of school it was really bad," says JMU student Lindsay Portugal. "They just sit there and they wait for you until you step off the curb and as soon as you step off the curb you're usually in trouble. Last weekend they patrolled up and down the streets and they pretty much just sat there and watched you."
"There's been a lot more," agrees JMU student Brad Bensten. "I've seen police patrolling the sidewalk pretty much from Thursday to Sunday"
Lieutenant Sites says the reason for more police presence is to make new students aware of city ordinances regarding alcohol. He says patrols will get smaller as the weather gets colder. But they'll never go away entirely.
"Even after we've reduced the number of people in these areas, the patrols will not be completely stopped," explains Sites. "These areas get heavily patrolled by HPD all year long, especially during the school session."
Sites believes students are cooperating more this year than last. He says the stepped up patrols will probably last one more month.