Drinkers ‘flirting’ with danger

Weather is “the best cop in the world,” Cpl. Charles James of Campus Police said on a dank and drizzly Thursday night last month. “If it rains hard, nobody wants to come out. Nobody gets

Weather is “the best cop in the world,” Cpl. Charles James of Campus Police said on a dank and drizzly Thursday night last month.

“If it rains hard, nobody wants to come out. Nobody gets involved in anything,” continued James, driving a squad car and gazing out at the desolate streets of Main Campus.

But the weather wasn’t on the side of the law for long. A far cry from Thursday’s cloudy skies and muggy midnight air, it was clear, crisp and dry Sept. 30, the following Saturday night. By 10:55 p.m., students swarmed North Broad Street. Dressed in snazzy outfits, they chattered excitedly as they headed out on the town.

At 1101 W. Montgomery Ave., another swarm was gathering. About a dozen police officers convened in front of Campus Police Headquarters. Some on foot, some perched on bikes and some driving squad cars, they soon dispersed to work the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. patrol shift. This time, “The Temple News” tagged along with Officer Gregory Carrion.

A retired Pennsylvania State trooper, Carrion has been a member of Temple’s police force for one-and-a-half years. He is responsible for monitoring the southwest part of campus, which stretches from Oxford Street to Berks Street and from North Broad Street to 16th Street.

Settling behind the wheel of a squad sport utility vehicle, Carrion pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. Keeping the volume low, he tuned the radio to 106.1 FM.

“I’m [at Temple] because my daughters go here,” Carrion said, smiling. “I would never bring them into a dangerous situation, so I’m certainly not going to bring you into one.”

Danger, he said, is something Temple students like to “flirt with.”

But at half past the hour, he still hadn’t encountered any unusual activity.

“[Yesterday] may have been a better day for you to come out,” he said. “It’s pretty quiet tonight.”

Little did Carrion know that two hours later, he would say that students are going “crazy.”

At 11:41 p.m., a voice crackled over the radio. “A reported burglary. Could you just check to see if it’s Temple-related?”

Carrion sped toward the scene of the crime at the corner of 16th and Jefferson streets. He stood on the sidewalk and shone his flashlight into the windows of a brick apartment building. Carrion investigated inside, returned to the car, filled out an incident report and set out again at 12:24 a.m.

He was quickly called upon again to transport a Hardwick Hall resident assistant to Temple Hospital. An inebriated female student, who lives on the RA’s floor, had already been admitted to the hospital by another officer.

Swerving into the driveway outside of Johnson and Hardwick Halls, Carrion braked beside Officer Carmen Balsama, who had already arrived at the scene.

“These students gotta learn not to drink the country dry,” Balsama said, shaking his head. After the RA, junior economics major Farama Thorlu-Bangura, had climbed into the backseat, Carrion hightailed it to Temple Hospital, located at 3401 N. Broad St. Brian Crawford, the officer who took the student to the hospital, stood in the building’s circular drive.

“It was a white female stumbling on the sidewalk outside of Norris Street,” he said. “Very strong odor of alcohol coming from her, slurred speech [and] very unsteady on her feet, … so I just made the decision to take her up here to be evaluated by doctors.”

Although the student was under the age of 21, Crawford did not charge her for underage drinking. “I [had] every right to, but she doesn’t seem like, you know, to be any big problem. … She did vomit in the back of the car driving up here. Yeah, I had to clean that up,” Crawford said, grimacing.

Thorlu-Bangura said he is required to remain with the student in the hospital and then report back to the resident director, adding that the student’s parents will be notified and that she will assess a $250 fine along with mandatory alcohol classes.

“It does happen often,” Thorlu-Bangura said. “People are going to do whatever they want. As far as I know, there’s no way to stop it.”

Carrion had barely pulled out of the hospital’s driveway at 1:04 a.m. before he was asked to check out a “speakeasy” near 17th and Berks Streets. Speakeasies are unlicensed establishments that sell liquor. He stalled the car in front of a security kiosk at 16th and Berks Streets. Glen Ehly, a lone officer manning the kiosk, told Carrion that the speakeasy had “nothing to do with Temple. They just try to suck up a few of the Temple kids.

At that moment, two male students strolled past. “Good morning, gentleman,” Ehly called out to them. “How are things going?”

“Good. Thank you very much, sir,” they replied. “The kids feel so safe out here, that they just be-bop down the street, they go to the parties and they’re not even looking over their shoulder,” Ehly said.

“Man, they just pop up out of everywhere. And you can tell that they’re Temple students. They just have that look to them.”

Carrion eased the car down the street, scanning the facades of the run-down buildings.

A pulsing, rhythmic beat could faintly be heard. “I can hear it,” Carrion said. “But I looked down the street from where [Ehly] was talking about and I didn’t see anything.”

Stumped by the speakeasy, Carrion responded
to another radio alert about a loud party on Wallington Street, where students stood clustered outside of a rowhome. They began leaving nonchalantly upon Carrion’s arrival.

“Find me the homeowner,” he said to a female student who darted inside.

After waiting two minutes, Carrion pounded on the door with his fist. A male student
emerged. He cheerfully greeted Carrion, “What’s up?” Carrion asked for identification and then warned him to turn down the music.

At 1:35 a.m., Carrion received word of another party on Fontaine Street. Putting on his lights, he hastened around the corner. Other officers, including Cpl. James, had already arrived.

The party was broken up as approximately
40 students, under the watchful eyes of three police officers, made their way out of the building. Some stumbled as they left. Others carrying red plastic cups were made to dispose of them in a trash can outside the house. After combing the streets for another 10 minutes, Carrion was told via police radio to head toward 12th and Dauphin streets.

“A male following a screaming female on the highway,” the voice said. The first officer on the scene, Carrion saw nothing at first.

Soon, a non-Temple affiliated female appeared. While eating a chicken leg, she attempted to explain her dilemma to Carrion. He drove off when other officers arrived, letting them handle the incident.

As the car’s digital clock glowed 2 a.m., Carrion said that this was around the time that students start returning from bars and clubs.

“Drunk hour, I call it,” he said.

At 2:28 a.m., Carrion returned to 16th Street to try to find the speakeasy. He went back two more times without any luck.

“It’s starting to die out,” he said at 2:40 a.m. The ride-along ended shortly afterward. Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services, said that it is difficult to tow the line between controlling underage drinking and accusing students without precedent.

“Is there a time when you can get by or escape arrest? Sure,” Leone said, adding that most alcohol-violations were committed by underage students. “We don’t want any underage drinking, but we also … don’t want to single somebody out without any type of suspicion or probable cause.”

Chief of Investigations Capt. Robert Lowell
said that most incidents stem from complaints filed by irritated residents.

“People can’t sleep and that’s why they get upset, and justifiably so. So that’s what you’re battling,” Lowell said.

Leone agreed, saying that there were “two different cultures” among students and residents on and near campus. “It’s not like we’re like, ‘No parties!’ We understand,” he said.

“We’re just saying, ‘Stay within certain parameters. Don’t put people at risk.’ No harm no foul.”

Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at venuri.siriwardane@temple.edu.

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