Corporal Jack Wagstaff formerly served as the liaison between the Durham Police Department and Durham Neighborhoods United, an organization of neighbors experiencing problems from party houses.
By Megan Shohfi
The Durham neighborhoods surrounding Duke University’s campus, represented by an organization called Durham Neighborhoods United (DNU), have experienced adverse effects of social gatherings occurring inside houses in these neighborhoods occupied by fraternities. Residential life is undeniably incompatible with the level of socializing that Duke fraternities create, says DNU chair Alisa Johnson.
While DNU neighborhood leaders initially reached out to the University to address the effects of off-campus partying such as disruptive noise and chaos, there was an overwhelming asymmetry of information regarding protocol to control these social gatherings. In the first years of addressing this issue, DNU gathered support from the Durham City Council and created a set of action steps to handle off-campus partying. While the initial protocol was useful for dealing with individual parties and helping to stop them, it was not effective in creating lasting changes in student behavior or facilitating a healthy relationship between students and DNU residents.
It became clear that students had to be held accountable by both the Durham Police Department (DPD) and the University to protect the wellbeing of DNU residents. Corporal Jack Wagstaff was assigned to lead a campaign to facilitate a respectful, effective, and sustainable response to off-campus partying to help residents feel supported and safe in their neighborhoods.
Corporal Wagstaff’s Campaign
Within a few short months, Corporal Wagstaff developed a protocol that lays out guidelines for officers dealing with off-campus parties. In the past, when police were willing to cite students, DNU residents who complained about the parties did not want to follow through with reports because they did not want to risk putting the students’ professional and academic futures in danger. Corporal Wagstaff aimed to develop an approach that held students accountable in an educative rather than punitive manner. Essentially, the new protocol asserts that students who live in a house where a noise complaint or other violation is reported will be given a warning on their first offense, be enrolled in Durham’s misdemeanor diversion program on the second, and get cited or arrested on a third violation (Griffin). Students also will be cited or arrested if they fail to complete the program.
Johnson described neighborhood response to Corporal Wagstaff’s approach as “highly organized and motivated,” emphasizing his ability to align the issue with a sustainable solution in a respectful way. Johnson says Corporal Wagstaff’s primary goal was to listen to the neighborhoods and ensure that residents knew their concerns were being taken seriously. By addressing concerns about wanting to hold students accountable rather than punishing them with legal action, Corporal Wagstaff alleviated the anxiety of residents who were hesitant to communicate with DPD about the issue. Corporal Wagstaff managed to shift the perspective of neighborhoods on how to work with the police while utilizing resident feedback on the program, says Johnson.
DNU residents who have chosen to use the protocol have seen some successes. While Corporal Wagstaff’s protocol is not the ultimate solution, it has mitigated the issue of party houses and improved the residential wellbeing of DNU neighborhoods, says Johnson. The protocol has made residents feel more comfortable facilitating the solution through the police rather than feeling responsible for bearing the burden of disruptive student behavior. Corporal Wagstaff’s response centered around trust, transparent communication, and respect has evoked positive feelings from DNU as he understood the issue of party houses significantly impacts the quality of life for neighborhood residents.
Johnson stated, “it feels good to finally be taken seriously and have an entity in the city to take the problem seriously and aid residents so they do not have to feel as though they are fighting the problem alone, with no tools.” The quickness and directness of Corporal Wagstaff’s response made residents feel supported and vindicated, creating a partnership between DNU and DPD to eventually eliminate the problem.
Griffin, Matthew. “DPD Experiments with Solution to Deal with Noisy, Wild off-Campus Parties.” The Chronicle, 13 Jan. 2020, www.dukechronicle.com/article/2020/01/durham-police-department-dpd-solution-off-campus-parties-duke-fraternities.