Sometimes statistics don’t lie. Sometimes the numbers help tell the story. But they are never the complete story — you have to dig deeper for that.
Take a look at the chart to the right. It’s an evolving piece of data that the Gazette-Times has published multiple times in the past six years, sometimes in slightly different form.
The numbers offer a snapshot of community livability in town as reflected in Corvallis Police Department calls for service. The chart includes disturbances, fights, alcohol violations, loud music and parties, issues that come up often in a city with nearly 25,000 college students.
The numbers have been steadily dropping since 2012 (and please note that the numbers for 2017 only represent calls for service to date). And the numbers have been steadily dropping because the city, Oregon State University, property managers and landlords and other members of the community put in the work — and learned to work together better.
“When we started in 2011 and 2012 we didn’t have that healthy a relationship with the property managers,” said Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman. “Now, it’s never been better. The value they bring to the collaboration process … I just can’t say enough about their contributions. And OSU and their office of student conduct.
“All of these efforts have been tremendous. There are all of these new tools that we have in the toolbox. And we’re making progress in driving these numbers down.”
The CPD had its best Halloween in years. Year in and year out the Halloween weekend produces the most calls for service. This year total calls for service were down, citations were down and special response notices (SRNs), the warnings issued for livability issues, were down.
“This year it just wasn’t very busy. It was far more pleasant,” said Capt. Dan Hendrickson of the CPD. “There were no violence cases, fewer SRNs and fewer waivers” — cases in which an officer will let one violation pass by because a more serious one is being dealt with.
CPD warnings on Halloween dropped from 154 in 2016 to 81 this year, with the big three of minors in possession of alcohol, open container issues and unlawful amplified sound dipping from 130 a year ago to 65.
“A lot of individuals and groups deserve thanks for this,” said Ward 2 Councilor Roen Hogg at an Oct. 5 City Council work session that included presentations by OSU officials. “Livability has improved. My neighbors all are saying the same thing … what was happening in the past has changed. This is a very significant thing. Keep up the good work.”
In addition the Gazette-Times sent a reporter into the neighborhoods on an evening walkabout for the sixth consecutive year (see story at left). Saturday nights near the campus always are going to be lively, but the trend in recent years has been fewer out-of-control parties, less trash and quieter neighborhoods.
How did all this happen? Here is a look at some of the efforts and partnerships and initiatives that have helped make a difference.
The city and OSU worked from 2012-14 on the Collaboration Corvallis project, which developed dozens of recommendations on livability, parking and traffic and neighborhood planning.
The livability work has continued with the Community Relations Advisory Group, a city-OSU-community group, co-chaired by the university’s Jonathan Stoll and a councilor. Hogg, whose district includes the neighborhoods just east of the campus initially served in the role. He was followed by Charlyn Ellis, whose Ward 5 includes the area north of OSU.
CRAG has been drilling down into a livability survey the board conducted for ideas on future initiatives.
OSU added staffers in student conduct, Greek Life, student health, public safety and in its on-campus Oregon State Police operation. New, stricter behavioral guidelines are in place for students and Greek organizations (see section below). The university also has issued a grant of $1.2 million to the city to pay for three new CPD livability officers, bringing that force to five officers plus its commander, Sgt. Joel Goodwin. OSU has increased spending in these areas by $4 million since 2013.
“I don’t know if OSU gets enough credit for what they have done,” Sassaman said. “It’s unprecedented in Oregon. No other university in the state has done that.”
It should be noted that in 2013 the council voted 7-2 to require OSU to pay for one police officer, a vote that was rescinded by an 8-0 margin at an emergency City Council session called after a meeting between OSU and city officials that Ward 9 Councilor Hal Brauner described as “intense and productive.”
By 2016 the collaboration landscape had changed enough to lead OSU to offer to pay for three officers.
Property managers and landlords, led by long-time Corvallis businessman and community activist Jerry Duerksen, began meeting in 2013 with an ambitious agenda: using self-regulation and training to help ease the challenges in the rental market.
They formed the Corvallis Rental Property Management Group (RPMG) and have held regular monthly meetings at the Elks Lodge on a dizzying array of topics: property maintenance, tenant rights, legislative initiatives that affect the rental market, fire safety, lease protocols and coordination with law enforcement. OSU and city officials have been involved throughout.
The link-up with the CPD has led to the most dramatic tool for the landlords. Whenever a rental unit receives an SRN, the property manager receives an email the next morning. Dawn Duerksen of Duerksen Associates says that sometimes her associates are out and knocking on the doors of units before the occupants have woken up.
Many landlords have inserted sections into their leases that lay out potential sanctions — including eviction — for receiving SRNS. And Sassaman says that the threat of eviction spooks students far more than receiving a citation from one of his officers.
“The city’s partnership with OSU and the RPMG … that trifecta continues to pay great dividends,” Hendrickson said. “Student conduct holds people accountable, RPMG holds people accountable. That has helped with the loud noise and parties.
Students and Greeks
OSU also has upped the ante on how it handles student conduct cases and issues involving its 46 Greek houses.
The updated student conduct code (see this story online for the full text) has been clarified and tightened. Students now are held accountable for behavior on-campus, off-campus, online, in study-abroad programs and at athletic events and club activities.
Also, the code calls now for an investigation even when there is no arrest or police citation involved.
“We care deeply about our community and we want a safe environment so that students can reach their goals,” said Raphelle Rhoads, who has been working in OSU’s student conduct office since June of 2013.
Rhoads and Carol Millie, director of student life, introduced and explained the new code at CRAG meetings on Sept. 11 and Nov. 13.
In the past four school years the conduct caseload has varied between a high of 318 in 2013-14 to 186 in 2014-15. Rhoads and Millie noted that they expect the caseload will rise, both because of the broader code and the beefed-up CPD livability patrol.
“We don’t necessarily think that we’ll be seeing an overall change in conduct. We just will have better measuring tools,” Millie said.
Possible penalties for code violations include suspension and expulsion (there has been one in the past four years), but most cases don’t wind up in that territory. “We’re an educational institution so the conduct outcomes for students should be educational as well,” Rhoads said.
The university established a task force to make recommendations for “enhancing the health and sustainability” of OSU’s Greek houses, which were said to be at a “crisis point.”
At a November 2016 town hall on alcohol on campus members of the audience gasped when a panelist noted that 63.7 percent of OSU’s Greek undergraduates consumed five or more drinks a night in the past two weeks. The number for the student body as a whole is 32.1, according to the most recent survey data released by the National College Health Assessment.
The task force has implemented policies that ban hard alcohol from Greek house and their events, bans all alcohol from recruiting events, requires live-in house directors and alumni advisers and mandates a relationship statement with the university and adherence to risk management guidelines.
Leslie Schacht Drey, associate dean of student life, unveiled the new policies at the Sept. 11 CRAG meeting and the Oct. 5 City Council work session.
During a discussion of the Greek polices at the Nov. 13 CRAG meeting Johnny Peters, assistant director of student life, noted that “some organizations have kicked and screamed at it, but they are implementing it.”
Kyle Daniel, president of Pi Kappa Alpha and incoming president of the Interfraternity Council, which governs traditionally housed men’s fraternities, said his house is abiding by the new rules.
“People know what the new rules are,” Daniel said. “I can’t speak for other chapters, but I’d like to think that they are following suit.”
The information trail might not be as precise in the broader campus community.
Steven Morris, executive director of community programs for the Associated Students of Oregon State University, told the Gazette-Times that the new student conduct code “has the potential to be a hot-button issue.
“I even asked myself at the meeting: At what point does OSU not have jurisdiction over my behavior? At home? When I travel independently? It seemed as if they had a very broad purview in creating the code.”
Morris also thinks that there are other lenses through which to analyze the Halloween/livability numbers. While the conduct code and “related efforts likely had an impact,” he said, “the reality is that most students are either unaware of under aware of these policies.”
Morris thinks that generational changes also are involved.
“In general rates of risky behaviors by youth have been trending lower in recent years,” he said. “If the data and generation change are truly aligned, there should be a steady decrease in these numbers reported by CPD, followed by a relative flat-lining.”
Nationally, 85 percent of sexual assaults among college students involve alcohol and Drey and other university officials emphasized that there are goals beyond “community livability” that are driving their policies and initiatives.
“The work of the university on many livability fronts is not exclusively about behavior,” said Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations and marketing. “These efforts do seek to address OSU’s commitment to improved community livability. As well, they are definitely about safety and student success. Safety is our No. 1 priority for students to achieve success while at Oregon State and to graduate with a valuable degree.”
Indeed, that $4 million in new spending by OSU includes nearly a $400,000 annual increase in funds targeting sexual violence prevention and survivor advocacy. The university has hired seven staffers in these areas since 2015, Clark said.
Sassaman, meanwhile, sounds energized at the possibilities of working with his expanded livability team and the city’s partners.
“I’m eager to see what the CLO team can handle and what student conduct can do,” he said. “What loopholes are there? What things are falling through the cracks? We have to be flexible with that. There could be another problem out there that we just don’t know about yet.”