Project Speakeasy sleeps with the fishes

Police crackdown on student neighbourhoods gets a friendlier name

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Project Speakeasy lies at the bottom of the Thames River this fall, presumably in cement shoes.

The London Police’s project to reduce rowdy behaviour and public drinking has been renamed Project LEARN in an apparent concession to students.

The change resulted from student concerns, including King’s University College Students’ Council President Ryan Gauss, about the image put forth by the old name.

London Police laid 842 charges last year and 323 of those were for liquor violations.

The project, which stands for Liquor Enforcement And Reduction of Noise, runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 29 and will focus on areas around both Western and Fanshawe’s campuses, along with Richmond Row.

“We believe that the name change better reflects the objectives of the project,” Constable Amy Phillipo of the London Police Service said.

Tom Stevenson, president of the University Students’ Council thought the name change was a step in the right direction.

“This year there’s been a more proactive approach,” Stevenson said, “We have increased interaction between the Police and USC.”

Stevenson went on to mention that both he and David Simmonds, VP"University Affairs, would be going for ride-alongs with London Police.

But increased interaction can only do so much to alleviate student concerns the project is deliberately targeting them.

Brian Herod, a bachelor of management and organizational science graduate, recalls a bust of a party he was involved with in September 2005, when the operation was still known as Project Speakeasy.

“We’d promoted [the party] around Western and Fanshawe. We had 14 kegs, bought for a total of around $2800. We expected about 400 people in the 3-floor townhouse that we were holding the party in. This is where we think the police found out about the event.

“Around 10 p.m. two plainclothes police officers paid to get into the party and within half an hour 15 to 20 uniformed cops came with a paddy wagon.

“Along with the paddy wagon, there was a flatbed truck that already had kegs on it, so we assumed that this wasn’t the first party they’d broken up that night.

“Although we were able to hide four of the kegs, all the rest were confiscated, along with a couple hundred dollars.

“Before the cops left they told us ‘don’t feel bad, we’re going to break up another one after this.’”

When asked whether he felt that the project was targeted at students, Herod replied, “Yes. Absolutely.”

As for the money lost through the confiscation of the kegs, Herod painted a bleak portrait.

“A few months after the bust, we received a letter from the beer company saying we had $2000 outstanding on our account. As of now that money is still outstanding.”

In addition to the financial burden of paying for kegs (a keg of domestic beer from the Beer Store is about $260), large fines are also handed out for liquor license violations.

“Each of the five guys who were responsible for the party received a $250 fine,” Herod said, “but only two ended up paying it. The other three fought the charges and had them dropped.”

Constable Phillipo outlined the process for property seized during a Project LEARN raid.

“Any alcohol that we seize is disposed of immediately,” she explained. “The exception to the rule are kegs, which are returned to the beer store after the alcohol is disposed of. The proceeds go back into the Police Services.”

Phillipo mentioned that legally operated (licensed) parties would not be affected, and that students who can’t wait to have a party should seek legal means of doing so.

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