The Eugene and University of Oregon police departments cited four people Saturday night for throwing a large party off-campus that had between 100 and 150 people, many who were college-age.
This comes as Lane County Public Health officials continue pleading with the community to stop gatherings — in particular, college parties — that have led to multiple COVID-19 outbreaks. The Eugene Police Department and the University of Oregon Police Department will continue doing weekend “party patrols” to disperse rowdy gatherings like Saturday’s, and to remind people why they’re a bad idea right now.
More: Officials call for end to college parties as Lane County reports record 58 new COVID-19 cases
On Tuesday, Lane County had reached 1,570 total cases, with 262 infectious people, meaning they are within 10 days of their symptom onset. These people are considered by officials as capable of passing on the virus.
The large party Saturday, first reported by KEZI-TV, happened in the 3300 block of Donald Street. Police responded to the area at 11:56 p.m. for a reported safety hazard, according to EPD spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin.
There were about 12 people who called police about the party, reporting fireworks, loud noise and more than 100 people gathered.
Lane County is still in Phase 2 of reopening, meaning all indoor social get-togethers are capped at 10 people with physical distancing, according to the governor’s website.
“The party involved illegal fireworks being set off, intoxicated subjects laying in yards three blocks away, alcohol, loud noise,” McLaughlin said. “Callers were concerned about COVID-19 restrictions.”
About five officers were trying to contact a large number of people around the home. “Some subjects were urinating in yards, showing their bare buttocks to officers and fleeing from the scene,” McLaughlin said.
Four people who lived at the house, aged 18 to 20, were cited by EPD for prohibited noise. While they took responsibility for throwing the party, the four people are not UO students, according to EPD.
Lane County Public Health spokesman Jason Davis said Monday the cases found to have started with the college-age population have branched out to older age ranges. Parties and large gatherings are a concern, but because students who live off-campus are regular citizens, neither the university nor county can control how they spend their time.
However, UOPD and EPD said they will be doing “party patrols” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for the next several weeks.
UOPD spokesman Saul Hubbard said they’ll be monitoring the neighborhoods near campus and will be enforcing the city of Eugene’s Unruly Gathering/Social Host ordinance “with zero tolerance for party hosts.”
The party patrols are not new this year. UOPD Chief Matthew Carmichael said they have done similar patrols every fall the last few years to respond to the inevitable influx of calls about off-campus parties when students return to the area.
The first weekend back, Sept. 25-27, the patrols responded to about 11 calls related to parties or similar types of gatherings and some minor-in-possession citations. “This last weekend we had 14 total parties,” Carmichael said.
So far, the volume of calls and parties this fall is in line with previous years, he said.
“Anecdotally, I’m not seeing any particular difference, up or down,” he said. “It’s a little early to say just yet. The next week or two will give us a good idea of where we stand.”
Education and consequences
While the people who threw the Donald Street party were not UO students, UO has previously stated that students who are reported to be violating state laws could be disciplined through the university’s code of conduct, which is essentially the only form of recourse UO has against off-campus activity.
In a statement Tuesday, UO spokeswoman Kay Jarvis noted students who don’t comply with face coverings, physical distancing and symptom self-check rules can be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. The Office of the Dean of Students is following up on every report, she said.
“While our conduct process is always educational in approach, we also understand the need to hold students accountable,” Jarvis stated in an email.
“Students who violate state law and university policy, even while off-campus, are subject to the student conduct code and student conduct action may be initiated. Consequences of violating the code may include educational sanctions, disciplinary probation or suspension or expulsion depending on the egregiousness of the behavior.”
The patrols parallel UO’s goals with education and making sure city ordinances and UO’s code of conduct are followed, Carmichael said. When responding to a party, Carmichael said the options for officers include education, verbal warnings, referring a student to the UO’s code of conduct, and/or a criminal citation for the city’s ordinances.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings from Gov. Kate Brown’s office, the expectation is that law enforcement who come upon large groups should prioritize explaining the importance of mask use, physical distancing and the executive orders.
McLaughlin in March said police departments heard from the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police that this should be the way to approach these issues, and that law enforcement aren’t expected to issue criminal citations, though it’s at their discretion.
Most times party hosts will disperse the group themselves when police arrive, Carmichael said. Police still talk to the people there about the impact of these events during the pandemic.
UOPD has taken approaches to encourage activities that align with the current standards, such as passing out free T-shirts to students they see wearing masks. Officers have masks on hand to give to people they’re interacting with who don’t have face coverings.
“This is about us as a community, not just Ducks,” Carmichael said, “but our entire Eugene community, every member in our community, we need to be health conscious for each other.”
Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at [email protected] or 541-338-2203, and follow her on Twitter @thejordynbrown and Instagram @registerguard. Support local journalism, subscribe to The Register-Guard.