Late on a Friday night, a red Ford Explorer departs from the Boston College Police station to prowl through the streets near campus. The driver is Steve Montgomery, who dons a black BC windbreaker embossed with the University seal and the phrase, "University Official."
Montgomery is well known to the off-campus BC community. Serving as the University's off-campus community liaison, he is perhaps known best by students by his unofficial title of "off-campus RA," the man who arrives at off-campus parties on weekend evenings to disperse crowds and talk to residents about off-campus student conduct rules.
While some students may disagree, he said his job is primarily to maintain a sense of community and mutual respect among the students residing off-campus and the permanent neighborhood residents.
"People are just looking to have their quality of life respected," Montgomery said. "When it is imperiled on a Friday or Saturday, that is when the party ends. People have jobs, kids, and the need for sleep that need to be respected. Neighbors recognize the need for college kids to socialize on the weekends, but it must be done in a reasonable manner with respect for the entire community."
Montgomery knows the area and the concerns of residents well. For the past 10 years, he has been employed by the University in the same capacity, to respond to off-campus student conduct concerns voiced by neighbors on weekends. From years of experience, he has an uncanny knowledge of most of the residences occupied by BC students off campus. Montgomery not only knows the student residences well, but also the neighbors and their concerns, meeting with them regularly, especially during the summer months. Prior to his work at BC, he worked as the neighborhood liaison for the Allston-Brighton area for the Boston Mayor's Office, often working to resolve differences between BC and the surrounding community.
As he travels through the streets, he stares out his window at houses. While driving, he not only responds to neighbor-generated complaints, but also looks out for large, noticeable gatherings of students at residences.
"You see that?" Montgomery said as he pointed to a covered porch with five young people gathered on it by the front door of a house. "That concerns me. If that group draws more people outside later, we could have a problem. We'll keep an eye on it tonight."
Montgomery cruises through the streets early in the evening looking for sites that may become problematic later in the evening. He said that he attempts to not only respond to complaints, but also to be proactive in his responses, aiming to prevent parties from turning into recurring problems or escalating into major incidents where police are dispatched by interacting with residents to issue verbal warnings earlier in the evening.
"Friday is a night that we try to be proactive," he said. "Because we have a large Jewish population in the neighborhoods around BC, we try to resolve potential problems earlier in the weekend, that way the neighbors do not have to violate any Sabbath Day worship rules should they have to call in concerns about off-campus student conduct."
He said he attempts to be proactive by issuing warnings to outdoor gatherings of students and students walking through the neighborhoods. Montgomery said that the noise on the street when students travel from party to party draws the attention of neighbors and authorities. While explaining the occurrence, he stopped on Kirkwood Street and noted the background noise.
"Notice how loud it is," he said. "They are not doing themselves or their friends, especially the ones hosting the party, a service. It just draws the attention of everyone around. The intermittent noise between parties when students are walking from house to house is what can draw the attention of the neighbors who may then call Boston Police, Boston College Police, or me to respond."
He issued a warning to the group, making them aware of their presence and the noise caused by it.
Montgomery also said that students should take simple steps beyond controlling noise to not only respect neighbors, but reduce the likelihood of a complaint being filed through the police or with Montgomery directly.
"Students should be mindful to not conduct their private business in public. If students are having a party and have shades, they should close them if they do not want the attention of the neighbors. When neighbors call us, we have to respond. So if students do not draw attention to themselves or their activities, the likelihood of not having a response to their gathering is greatly increased."
The proactive encounters with students, often warnings to reduce noise or disperse from outdoor gatherings likely to disturb surrounding residences, are also aimed at preventing the need for a response from law enforcement. Though Montgomery attempts to respond to off-campus party incidents to which Boston Police are dispatched, he often reminds students that when the police get involved, it becomes their decision to either issue a citation or have the matter dealt with internally through BC.
"[The police] have control of the situation when we are both called," Montgomery said. "I am there to offer an alternative to issuing citations, providing a way to handle matters internally through the University. Though a visit from officials to end a party may be less than desirable, it always helps to have a good attitude. Anger, especially alcohol-infused, never helps the situation. Respect, tone, and attitude go a long way with the police. They hold much discretion over a situation."
Should the police desire to have BC address the situation, Montgomery's job is to observe and report situations. Actual review of the situations and disciplinary matters resulting from the incidents are handled by the Office of the Dean for Student Development (ODSD).
However, by 1 a.m. last Saturday morning, Montgomery had not received a single direct complaint from a neighborhood resident, nor a dispatch by BCPD to any off-campus incident. Montgomery reasoned that the low call volume probably stems from the time of year.
"After the first five to six weeks, freshmen and sophomores have become adjusted to university life and expectations. Juniors have made it through their first few weeks of independent living. It is then that we begin to see the back end of a bell curve regarding student conduct issues in the neighborhoods, and by November and December, students have established a pattern, limiting the number of problems and issues in the neighborhoods, though problems continue to exist throughout the year."
Sometimes, just the presence of Montgomery's car in a neighborhood draws enough attention to reduce noise and crowds. Montgomery said that his presence alone could have an effect, as he drove down Kirkwood street with his windows down.
"Montgomery!" a person shouted as the car rolled down Kirkland Street.
Montgomery noted the student's shouting of his name, as well as the reduction in noise in the area a few minutes after the occurrence.
At around 1:30 a.m., Montgomergy received a dispatch to an off-campus noise complaint. He responded, pulling his Explorer in front of the house. Music could be heard from the street and there was a small group gathered outside on the front lawn. A girl quickly stood and entered the house. The music stops and from the street you can hear the woman shout:
"The off-campus RA is here!"
Individuals exited the front door and the females residing in the house talked with Montgomery. He talked to the senior girls, and even though it was 1:30 a.m. and past Montgomery's normal threshold for issuing warnings, he opted to give the three senior girls a verbal warning.
"The girls lived there their entire junior year last year, and I remember I never got a call there," he said. "They chose to reside there again this year, enjoying the neighborhood. It was obvious through conversation that they were just unaware of their noise. So as long as this is the first time in over a year, I figure that a warning will correct the behavior. Quite simply, the primary reason for contacting residents is that we do not want to see the same thing happen again."