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Complaints of disorderly conduct by college students dropped in Towson after the county passed an ordinance instituting fines for unruly parties.
Complaints of disorderly conduct by college students dropped in Towson after the county passed an ordinance instituting fines for unruly parties. (Data from Towson University)

Two years after the social host ordinance took effect, a Baltimore County initiative designed to quell disruptive and loud college parties in residential neighborhoods, residents say they are seeing positive results.

“You can tell from the numbers,” said Greg Bauer, president of the community association for Burkleigh Square, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by raucous students from Towson University. “If we’re not pleased, something’s very wrong.”

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Bauer was referring to the number of complaints of off-campus disruptive behavior, which have plummeted since the social host ordinance went into effect in February 2016.

The 2015-2016 school year saw 51 total complaints about off-campus student gatherings around Towson, according to data provided by Towson University. Two years later, in the 2017-2018 year, there were just 12 complaints.

“We’re incredibly happy with how it’s worked,” said Joe La Bella, president of Towson Manor Village Community Association.

'Unruly-gatherings' law curbs wild parties in Towson

Baltimore County's Social Host–Unruly Social Gatherings ordinance, enacted by the County Council in January, applies to any gathering of four or more people in a home near Towson University or the University of Maryland Baltimore County that features "conduct that disturbs the peace."

The county ordinance, spearheaded by Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, gives police the power to issue a civil citation to those hosting an “unruly social gathering.”

“The social host ordinance has been an effective tool in reducing unruly disturbances and stabilizing neighborhoods throughout Towson,” Marks said. “I regard this as one of the most important laws enacted by this County Council.”

Under the ordinance, the host of the party can be fined $500 and required to perform 20 hours of community service for a first violation, while property owners are given a warning. On a second violation, the fine climbs to $1,000 for the host and $500 for the landlord. After a third offense, the landlord’s rental license can be suspended or revoked.

Towson University is also notified about student citations, though university spokesman Sean Welsh said that process is nothing new – the school was previously notified of off-campus citations and arrests.

“Students receiving a social host citation are held accountable for violating the university’s Off-Campus Disorderly and Disruptive Behavior Policy and adjudicated according to the University Code of Student Conduct,” Welsh said.

In November last year, the council extended what was originally a two-year pilot program. The program will now last until November 2022.

Monthly complaints of off-campus disorderly conduct in Towson from 2015 to 2018
Monthly complaints of off-campus disorderly conduct in Towson from 2015 to 2018 (Data from Towson University)

Bauer said the difference in Burkleigh Square is discernible.

Two years ago, residents complained of loud parties Thursday through Saturday, “every weekend, practically,” Bauer said. He said noise, vandalism, public urination and aggressive, drunken students “drove a lot of people out [of the neighborhood.]”

Since the ordinance passed, however, Burkleigh Square went from 19 complaints in the 2015-2016 school year, to just five complaints in the past school year, which began in August and concluded in May.

“It has been so quiet that I really seriously don’t remember the last time we had an issue,” Bauer said.

In Towson Manor Village, La Bella said the ordinance has not been quite as dramatic, but that problems have dropped off more rapidly as police started using the power to fine more often.

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Police community relations officer Amanda Halley said the ordinance has had a preventative effect, deterring people from hosting wild parties in the first place.

“I think it’s been pretty effective,” Halley said. “It’s certainly a good thing to have.”

“It really has been very quiet,” La Bella said.

Baltimore County extends pilot program to crack down on college parties

A pilot program meant to crack down on unruly parties in Towson will be extended through 2022. 

Now, the biggest noise problem Towson Manor Village faces, La Bella said, is students walking home from the bars in downtown Towson late at night and not parties held in the neighborhood.

One thing Halley said helped increase the benefits of the program was the expansion from just a few neighborhoods to covering the entire Towson police precinct, instituted in a bill in October 2017. Now, according to hosts and landlords can be fined for parties anywhere within Precinct 6 in Towson.

The ordinance, Bauer said, is effective because it created consequences for throwing loud parties that go beyond a slap on the wrist.

“Do you want to spend an extra $500 and 20 hours of community service just to have a party, and have it broken up by the police?” Bauer asked. “Probably not.”

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