One on One with the Chief

Faulkner tackles anti-student feelings

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

London Police Service Chief Murray Faulkner

The Gazette sat down with London Police Service Chief Murray Faulkner to discuss the challenges he faces in the relationship between students and police in London.

Are there any specific challenges in being chief in a city with a large student population?
The challenge is what can be expected in a city our size and the geographic location. The challenges I face from a postsecondary institution town are different than the challenges faced by, say, Toronto. Their universities and colleges are so well integrated into the city. Because our institutions are so big, they stand out and as such, so do any student-related issues. It’s nothing unique compared to other chiefs in other jurisdictions.

Do you meet with police chiefs from cities like Kingston, Waterloo and Hamilton to discuss common concerns?
Yes, and the issues we have here are very similar to the issues they have there: the quality of life, some neighbourhood issues, the rowdy-ism, the over consumption of alcohol. If you were to just read our newspaper or hear the news you would think this is unique. But it certainly isn’t. I accept it as a fact that we have these ongoing problems. We’ve always had some issues, but we have to deal with them.

Why is the concentration of students a problem?
Some people will say when it becomes all students [in an area] then it’s not a problem. I’ve noticed the complaints received have gone down, but the problems haven’t gone down. Predominately because it’s just students they won’t call [the police]. But if we’re not there, things will really get out of hand in terms of property damage, and serious assaults. We’ve seen that scenario played out.

As well, when that neighbourhood gets a reputation, it draws students walking over there, because you can’t have those types of parties in a residence and you get a lot of non-students coming there to party.

How much of the problem is non-students joining in these parties?
It is an issue, but I will say that during Project LEARN the vast majority of charges laid were against students.

Is there a problem with students coming forward to help investigations?
Very much so. People get assaulted, we ask for witnesses and nobody saw anything.

Why do you think that is?
If you’re not a victim, in many of these cases you think it’s no big deal. There is also this whole atmosphere that students are just here to have fun.

Now there are some who will come forward and help us, but a lot of them don’t.

A lot of students see the police as anti-student. Do you think that is a factor for why students don’t come forward?
I don’t see it as anti-police. I just think it’s the attitude. They have to understand that society has us to do a job. It’s not that we are out there making up the rules and looking to cause people aggravation. If there is a victim of a crime, that is our mandate " to assist the victim of the crime. If [students] don’t want to be involved in it and help us, they don’t have to. But being a good citizen is part of making your community safe.

I think a lot of it has to do with maturity. Now, maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. I’ve often said for many students this is their first time away from the daily controls of their parents. I’m not so sure that the maturity level is there.

Why is there an impression among students that police are anti-student?
Students feel the whole idea behind [Project LEARN] is geared towards them. To some degree I can understand it. But we are responding to complaints from the public. I’ve said this is a geographical problem. If someone is having a noisy party in that geographic area they are going to get a ticket, regardless of who they are. The problem is that most of the problems are caused by students. I’d ask them, what do they propose the London Police do, who are mandated to enforce the laws of the province and the municipal bylaws. Even though they may feel that way, grow up is my sentiment.

The issues haven’t changed. When I was in high school there were people drinking underage. Police would charge them and there was an anti-police feeling. Because we issue tickets I know that there is an anti-police feeling. That’s our job and people should understand that that’s our job.

In the past we’ve discussed your ideas for a keg registry and increased alcohol -related fines in certain neighbourhoods, can you see how that would lead to an unfriendly image of the police?
The keg registry isn’t just for students, it’s for everybody. I want a keg registry so we have an idea where these large groups of students or whatever are. It’s not just a student thing, neither are the increased fines. It’s responding to public complaints: the increased fines are there to protect the neighbours who are constantly bombarded by problem people, which are predominately students.

That being said, neither one is making any progress with the provincial government.

Some students have received notices on their rental property stating the police will take a zero tolerance approach to the address due to a history of problems. What is the thinking behind those notices?
What would happen in years past is people would move in and say, “We don’t know anything about the problems in the past.” It’s a proactive thing saying this address has been identified through our records as an area in which we come back numerous times for noise complaints, partying and rowdy behaviour. We hand out the notice so that they know this location has been problematic.

I would say, what is the issue with that. If they don’t have large parties, this isn’t an issue.

These students often feel like they have been unfairly targeted, because they haven’t done anything and have nothing to do with past problems.
That’s why we are telling them there has been history. So don’t be involved in any parties. It’s a warning, that’s all it is.

Are these warnings ever put on non-student residences?
In that area, oh yeah. That’s why it’s [a] geographical [problem]. I don’t know whether these people coming in there are students, but this address has been classified a problem address.

I think students are looking for some kind of scapegoat in relation to their behaviour " this is all behaviour-driven. I’m not saying you can’t have parties, but keep it in the house " keep it in the house and they’ll be fine.

People don’t want to do that. They want to make up their own rules.

Do you feel like your’e making progress on this issue?
One of the reasons that progress is slow is there are new students every year. It’s going on all the time as far as the education component.

Does it get frustrating?
Sometimes. But listen, there are bigger things in life to get frustrated over. We just keep working on this issue. Policing sometimes is a frustrating job.

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