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Cal Poly police soon could be able to enforce city laws off-campus

The San Luis Obispo police station at Santa Rosa and Walnut streets.
The San Luis Obispo police station at Santa Rosa and Walnut streets. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In response to ongoing complaints of noise, large gatherings and alcohol problems in the neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and university police are proposing an agreement that would allow the latter to enforce city laws off-campus.

Currently, the state-run university police have no means to enforce municipal code violations that occur in neighborhoods directly off campus, where many students live.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo City Council will vote on whether to approve a memorandum of understanding between the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the University Police Department to allow university police to issue citations for violations within a one-mile radius of the Cal Poly campus.

“These municipal codes are tailored toward the problems the city is looking specifically to solve,” university police Chief George Hughes said. “We’re looking to help the city of San Luis Obispo face some of these loud parties and other frequent problems we find in those (neighborhoods.)”

Hughes said that his officers have historically patrolled the neighborhoods and handed out what citations they could under state law, such as underage drinking or public urination. However, if a university officer wants to issue a citation for an “unruly gathering” offense, a city ordinance that can also hold property owners responsible for rowdy parties, no state statute exists.

The arrangement will allow university officers to now write citations under five sections of the city’s municipal code — possession of open containers or public consumption of alcohol, underage persons in possession of alcohol, noise, unruly gatherings and a section that covers miscellaneous prohibitions such as urinating in public and certain vehicle uses on public property.

That may mean more money going to the city.

A San Luis Obispo city resident cited by university police for an offense under state law would pay the fine through San Luis Obispo Superior Court and much of the fine would go to the state and the court system. Fines paid for municipal code violations go to city coffers.

Exceptions may vary, but citations for those five sections typically follow a fee schedule of $350 for a first offense, $700 for a second and $1,000 for a third. Unruly gatherings ring in at $700 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Should the memorandum of understanding be approved, university police will also be able to write those citations under the city’s “Safety Enhancement Zone” ordinance, which doubles those fines during certain party-heavy holidays.

“We want to be on the same page with (SLOPD), and this will send a consistent message that (residents) will get the same police service from us that they get from San Luis Obispo police,” Hughes said.

San Luis Obispo acting police Chief Chris Staley said the proposed agreement was one recommendation from Neighborhood Civility Group meetings held over the last two years. He said it was written based on similar agreements between UC Santa Barbara and the county of Santa Barbara, and Chico State and the city of Chico.

Should the City Council approve the memorandum of understanding, San Luis Obispo police will immediately begin training university officers, create an administrative process for handling the citations they write and conduct community outreach.

The staff report said additional costs may result from the City Attorney’s Office processing more citations and prosecuting them in court if necessary. The report does not address potential added income from more fines.

Staley said the city is not looking for the agreement to result in more citations in the long run, but rather fewer overall complaints and citations in problem areas.

“The best measure (of success) will be, have we been able to reduce not just the raw number of citations that come out of it, but how do the neighbors feel about their neighborhoods?” Staley said. “Some of it will be anecdotal.”

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