Increase in noise complaints leads to neighborhood surveillance and outreach

The Office of Student Affairs and Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) have recorded 24 noise complaints leveled at students by residents of Medford and Somerville this past month.

According to Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire, the number of noise complaints began to increase in early September and have been steadily accumulating. The increase in reported complaints has led Office of Student Affairs and TUPD to increase neighborhood patrol alongside host city police departments to address the issue, he said.

TUPD works in partnership with our host city police departments to jointly patrol the areas most impacted, trying to identify large gatherings and prevent neighborhood disturbances by reminding those in attendance that they are within residential neighborhoods,” Maguire said.

Maguire explained that the disturbances have affected the communities’ relationship with Tufts.

“Residents of our host cities of Medford and Somerville who live adjacent to and near campus report that the peace and tranquility of their neighborhood has been disturbed by loud parties with sometimes hundreds of guests,” Maguire said. “They and their children have been awakened at night because of the noise. They report that their quality of life is adversely impacted by the loud parties.”

Residents in Medford and Somerville have found the noise so disturbing that elected and appointed officials have reached out to Tufts expressing concerns and have asked Tufts to contribute to restoring the peace, Maguire said.

Somerville residents have expressed stronger concerns than Medford residents, and many complaints and resident concerns about repeated disturbances from Tufts have been levied at Somerville elected representatives, such as Ward Seven Alderman Katjana BallantyneMaguire said.

Overall, there have been fewer disturbances reported from Medford and, since the city does not use ward representation, most of the concerns addressed to the university have come directly from residents, Maguire said.

In response to the increase in complaints, Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Maguire sent Tufts students an email on Sept. 25 reminding students to be respectful of their neighbors and informing them that TUPD and host city police departments would be working together to minimize disturbances.

“In response to the number of recent noise complaints, our host city police departments and the Tufts University Police will be enhancing efforts to proactively quell neighborhood noise and disturbances,” the email read. “We will continue to follow up with individual students and party hosts who are reported to the Dean’s office, and we ask that each of you do your part by engaging in responsible respectful conduct on and off campus.”

In addition to extra policing, the Department of Student Affairs has begun to reach out to the surrounding communities and students more deliberately, Judicial Affairs Officer Mickey Toogood said.

“We have been working more with the communities,” he said. “We have had meetings with particular residents in the area … For example [in] the [email], we made an effort to communicate with the students.”

Toogood explained that there is also an upcoming Off-Campus Housing Fair that both Community Relations and ResLife have worked together on to inform students about responsibilities associated with living off campus.

Student Relations also goes into the community giving information to students and non-students in the area,” he added.

The Off-Campus Housing fair will be held on Oct. 17 in South Hall to provide an opportunity for Tufts students and members of the Medford and Somerville communities to come together and learn about off-campus housing issues, a representative from the Office of Residential Life explained.

Complaints about students typically come from individual neighbors who either call Medford, Somerville or Tufts police to deal with the violation, he said. Students who live close to families with children or elderly residents are more likely to receive complaints.

“I think most of the noise complaints happen because you have students on one schedule and neighbors on another,” Toogood said. “Who your neighbors are can matter. If you are surrounded by Tufts students who are used to being up at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, you’re probably good to go. If you’re surrounded by someone who has a young child who goes to bed at 8 at night, that might be a problem.”

In the case of an incident, a resident of Medford or Somerville will either call their respective police departments, who will then connect with TUPD, or they will call TUPD directly, Toogood explained.

When police arrive at a disruptive residence, standard procedure is to disperse the party, find a resident and let them know that the Office of Judicial Affairs will be made aware of the violation, Toogood said.

After a student has been referred to the Dean’s Office, they will typically speak with Toogood about the incident and on occasion, will contest the violation.

If there is a question about whether or not the violation occurred, students will have the chance to present an written explanation to Toogood and responding officers for their review, he said.

Medford and Somerville each have ordinances regarding noise and therefore have the power to cite and fine a student, Toogood said. These cities enact their fines, which start at $900, by the number of residents of the household in question. So, if there are five people living in a house, they will each be fined $900, Toogood explained.

Tufts also has its own noise policy, described in the Student Handbook, which explains that Tufts also has the power to issue a $300 fine to students who violate the policy.

If complaints against a specific household persist, Tufts’ policy is to double the fine for each new complaint, Toogood explained. If a household has already received a noise complaint, they will be charged $600 the second time and $1200 the third time.

Toogood said it is possible for a student to receive a fine from both Tufts and a host city, though he would prefer to avoid that.

“If someone had already been fined $900 by Medford or Somerville, I don’t see myself issuing another fine on top of that,” he said. “That seems a little bit excessive to me, although I think I would technically have the right to do so.”

Due to the recent increase in difficulties with off- and on-campus housing, a new committee on ResLife has been created to address the problem, Tufts Community Union (TCU) President Brian Tesser, a senior, said.

Tesser, who is the arts and sciences student representative on the committee, said he is one of two students in the 52-member committee, led by Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris. The other members are faculty and staff of the university.

“From my understanding…the committee is being formed because the administration is realizing that housing, as a general term, is a problem on this campus,” Tesser said. “They are trying to find solutions to fix it.”

He said he is trying to include more students in the discussion by adding more representatives to the committee and beginning his own focus group to allow students to share their experiences and opinions. Tesser added that he advocates for friendly relationships among Tufts students living off campus and their residential neighbors, suggesting that students make an extra effort to cultivate relationships with their neighbors.

“Get to know your neighbors — go say ‘Hi,’” he said. “Once you have a personal relationship with someone, anger can be diminished. Make an effort to know people around you and be respectful.”

Tesser explained that as a student he understands that parties and noise are common and hard to avoid, and said that his place of residence has received noise complaints in the past. He believes, however, that the school and the surrounding communities should work together to diminish noise complaints and avoid large fines.

“I think, at a fundamental level, students do need to remember that while we are living in the Somerville and Medford communities, these are not our communities,” Tesser said. “There are people who have been living here since way before we came, and they will be here far after we are gone.”