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Towson University gives county grant to police unruly students this spring

Baltimore County police will be stepping up neighborhood patrols in Towson on the weekends, thanks to a grant from Towson University meant to help stem trouble from rowdy students.

“It’s important to us to work with our partner neighborhoods,” said Jana Varwig, associate vice president for student development programs and services.

The grant paid county police about $27,000 last year over two semesters to assign extra officers to the neighborhoods surrounding Towson University on Thursdays through Saturday nights, Varwig said, saying the grant can vary from year to year.

Its goal is to reduce noise and vandalism as students come back from bars and parties, Varwig said.

The initiative is one of multiple ways the university is attempting to make peace between its students and the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

“We try to remind our students that they’re living in a community with people with a variety of different lifestyles,” she said. “They may be up at 2 a.m., but the rest of us will not be.”

For at least 10 years, the university has given police the grant for the fall semester, traditionally a busier time for parties, Varwig said.

Capt. Jan Brown, of the Towson Precinct, requested this year that the program be expanded into the spring for the second year after hearing community complaints.

Many incidents happen while students walk back to their dorms from the bars in downtown Towson through residential neighborhoods, he said.

“They see youngsters walking down the streets liquored up, doing this and doing that,” Brown said, saying problems include students stealing street signs, fights and vandalism.

From the end of March through the end of the year, two extra officers each weekend night are being paid overtime to patrol the neighborhoods between downtown Towson and the university, Brown said.

Varwig said target neighborhoods include Towson Manor Village, Burkleigh Square and Towson Green.

Paul Hartman, a founding member of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations’ university relations committee, said the problems with student behavior have risen over the years as the university has expanded into the existing neighborhoods.

“There’s a lifestyle clash,” Hartman said. “They stay up later, drink more.”

Towson University also has its own police force, but it does not have jurisdiction off campus, Varwig said.

Another initiative meant to staunch wild parties around Towson is the social host ordinance, which the County Council passed in 2016. The ordinance creates fines and community service requirements for hosting unruly parties of four or more people.

In the years after the ordinance passed, complaints of off-campus disorderly conduct in Towson plummeted, from 42 in the 2015-2016 school year to 19 in the 2016-2017 school year, according to police statistics provided by Councilman David Marks, who pioneered the legislation.

Last year, the ordinance was expanded from just the areas surrounding the university to the entire precinct, a move Brown said he welcomed.

“I was amazed at how well it worked,” he said of the ordinance.

“We have made tremendous progress over the past decade in improving relations between Towson University and the neighboring communities,” Marks said. “It is like night and day … It’s not a perfect relationship, but it has gotten much better.”

Hartman praised the school for responding to neighbors’ complaints about student behavior.

“Twelve years ago, the university’s policy was ‘we have no jurisdiction, no responsibility off campus,’” Hartman said. “They’ve now changed that, and that’s to their benefit ... I’m glad they’re a partner now, rather than an adversary.”

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