Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of the problem of student party riots. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. The specific characteristics of student party riots tend to vary greatly across jurisdictions. Analyzing your local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

Since large-scale student party riots are relatively rare, you may not be able to observe an event carefully before formulating your response strategy. You may even have to rely on the details of a single past event when conducting your analysis.

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of student party riots, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

When performing your analysis, it can be helpful to consider how the information you collect fits into each of the five stages of student gatherings, so you can tailor your intervention strategies accordingly. You should try to gather as much information about each stage as possible and use multiple information sources. These may include interviews or surveys of students, community residents, local businesses, and police officers, as well as past media coverage, and police and university records. It may be helpful for police to partner with local universities or researchers to design, test, and administer any proposed surveys.

† For an example of how you can use an online university student survey to gather information about student party riots.

Initial Planning

  • Do police know about planned gatherings? How do they find out? Can you predict when and where the next gathering will take place, based on experience?
  • About how many people have attended past gatherings?
  • How do students communicate plans for gatherings? Through posters/fliers, e-mail, word of mouth?
  • Are students required to get a permit or meet specific requirements before they can hold a large gathering?
  • Have other activities been offered to students as an alternative to attending problem gatherings? Are there any other alternatives available?
  • Do gatherings take place on public or private property? Who manages or owns this property?
  • What location characteristics make them attractive for students? Are place managers absent from the locations?
  • What organizations are working to prevent student party riots? Are there any other agencies that could help in this effort?
  • What legal sanctions exist for riotous behavior in your jurisdiction?

Preassembly Preparation

  • Why do students attend the gatherings? Why do some students not attend? How many plan to attend future events?
  • What do the overall gathering locations look like? Are the areas well kept? Are there visible code violations? Are there many parked cars? Are they open or confined spaces? Are there restrooms? Trash bins?
  • What role have the media played in the past? Can you use them to communicate with students and the community immediately before future events?
  • Where do students buy alcohol? Who is buying and who is selling the alcohol?
  • Are there regulations that control alcohol distribution in your jurisdiction that can be used to monitor large student purchases?

Assembling Process

  • What time do students start to arrive at gatherings?
  • What modes of transportation do students use to get to the event? How far do they have to travel?
  • If they drive, where do they park?
  • Has there been a visible police presence as people gathered in the past, or did the police arrive after the disturbance started?

Assembled Gathering

  • Where exactly do the students gather on the property? In an open field? In the street? On the sidewalks?
  • What are the characteristics of the people who attend the events? Are they all local college students? If not, who are the other attendees, and where do they come from? Is there an even gender and racial distribution at the events?
  • What percentage of students drinks alcohol? How much do they drink? Are drugs used at the events? What types?
  • What types of alcohol are consumed at the gatherings? In what quantities? How is the alcohol served? In kegs? Bottles? Cups?
  • At about what time have the flashpoints occurred during past student gatherings?
  • Have the disturbances taken place at the same location as the original gatherings?
  • What do police, students, or local residents believe caused the flashpoints or encouraged some attendees to engage in disorder?
  • Is overcrowding a problem at the gatherings? Do space limitations contribute to pushing, irritation, disorderliness, or anonymity?
  • Have any police interventions proved effective in preventing or reducing disorder or violence? Have any provoked a violent response?
  • Have rioting students targeted officers? How many officers have been injured? How many students or others have been injured?

Dispersal Process

  • How long does it take for the entire gatherings to disperse?
  • What modes of transportation do attendees use to leave? Is drunken driving an issue?
  • How much damage has resulted from past events? What type of damage has occurred?
  • Have students or other attendees damaged property outside of the gathering locations as they walked to their cars or towards other modes of transportation?
  • How much money have damages cost the city, community, police, and/or university?
  • How many arrests, detentions, citations, or other official interventions have police made while dispersing people from past events? Has the university issued sanctions after the disturbances? If so, how many and what type?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

You should consider the possibility of displacing student parties to other sites, and you should consider the possibility that successful prevention at the primary location might prevent disruptive student parties at other locations (i.e., diffusion of crime prevention benefits). [25] The lack of systematic research into student party riots makes it difficult to give precise advice regarding either displacement or diffusion of benefits. However, there are some rules of thumb that are generally useful. First, the most likely displacement sites will have characteristics similar to the disturbance sites you are already examining. Look for locations that are already student party sites, though at a lower intensity. Potential displacement sites are unlikely to be located far from student concentrations, so the number of possible locations you need to investigate may be quite limited. You can monitor these sites to detect displacement. You should also consider low-intensity interventions designed to limit displacement.

† As you are relying on your best guesses regarding displacement sites, it is unclear whether they would become troublesome if left unaddressed. So unless they are already troublesome, they probably do not warrant costly interventions. Simple interventions may be sufficient to keep them from becoming major trouble spots.

Diffusion of crime prevention benefits can occur if preventing a disturbance also suppresses other possible disturbances. For example, alcohol controls designed to prevent one disturbance might also make it difficult for smaller drinking parties to grow. University controls and police enforcement can influence students to keep parties small and relatively discreet. Consultations with landlord groups can sensitize landlords throughout the university student community to get more involved in heading off disruptive parties. So while you should focus on preventing specific disturbances, you should also take advantage of potential prevention multipliers.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to student party riots:

  • reduced number and severity of offenses committed during student gatherings;
  • reduced number of student/police confrontations;
  • reduced amount of property damage;
  • reduced number and severity of injuries;
  • reduced number of calls to the police concerning student disturbances;
  • improved perceptions of police actions by students and the community; and
  • improved perceptions of university involvement by students and the community.