Oh, SNAP: A weekend with the party police

March 24, 2011

It’s difficult to say why a girl in a panda hat wanted to jump into Matt LeBlanc’s arms at 2 a.m. last Saturday.

“If I jump, will you catch me?“ she asked him.

Was she concerned about her safety? After all, she was standing in the middle of the intersection of Prospect and 34th Streets, watching taxis whiz by as they picked up anyone who stuck around an M Street bar until closing time.

“I see that pen in your hand! You’re going to write us up, aren’t you?” she said.

LeBlanc, a Student Neighborhood Assistance Program representative, certainly didn’t look like he wanted the faux pelt-wearing stranger jumping into his folded arms. Instead, he urged her back toward the sidewalk, his arms crossed and a knowing grin spread across his face. Meanwhile, her friends stood on the opposite end of the street, giggling and shouting.

“Maybe I should call GERMS,” LeBlanc said, jokingly.

She screwed up her face, cocking her head at an angle that would topple over most sober people. Then, she returned a tease of her own.

“Doesn’t it suck to write people up?” she asked.


Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, SNAP representatives patrol Burleith and West Georgetown from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m., on the lookout for crime, safety issues, and out-of-control parties.

The service is in its eleventh year, although earlier programs operated through the 1990s under different names. But perhaps now, in the midst of a controversial Campus Plan approval process and an increasingly strained relationship between the University and the community around it, SNAP is more relevant than ever.

“The primary goal is to educate students,” Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord said. “It’s not punitive. … We want to catch them before they reach a level where MPD might have to respond.”

The key to striking a balance between educational and judicial purposes, Lord explained, is acting before neighbors complain about loud parties.

“The majority of the stops are proactive ones and that really works to the students’ benefit,” she said. “That’s our goal.”

Cory Peterson, a SNAP representative and area coordinator in the Office of Residence Life, echoed Lord’s sentiment.

“We try to be more proactive than reactive,” Peterson said.

“Proactive” is a word you hear a lot if you hang around SNAP patrols, as I did last weekend. I met LeBlanc and Peterson on campus at 11 p.m. on Saturday, before they joined a nightly “roll call” meeting inside the Department of Public Safety’s Village C West headquarters. At the meeting, they shared information about the evening’s goings-on with DPS officers, off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officers, and Allied Barton private security officers, who all also patrol on weekend nights.

“We do it during every shift,” LeBlanc said. “Over time, it helps us build a relationship with DPS and MPD officers.”

Despite these working relationships, SNAP’s proactive approach aims to intercede before other authorities like MPD can step in and act. Before the University’s Office of Off-Campus Life remodeled SNAP in the fall of 2007, it was a response-only program that did operate nightly patrols. Now, SNAP’s neighborhood hotline dials directly to a cell phone carried by a patrolling SNAP representative.

SNAP’s efforts have become all the more important to the University since a disorderly conduct law amended by the D.C. City Council took effect last month. The law, which prohibits any loud noise between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. that is “likely to annoy or disturb one or more other persons in their residences,” can lead to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“Since the law, we’ve been told to straight up shut parties down,” Dennie Flowers (COL ‘96), a SNAP representative who also works in Yates Field House, said. “It’s a way to make sure MPD isn’t involved. It keeps the kids out of trouble.”

Other SNAP representatives tell a different story, claiming that a January 2009 MPD decision to reauthorize the use of 61-D citations, which are noise fines that count as an arrest on criminal records, had already encouraged them to act early.

“I wouldn’t say we use the law as a deterrent,” Peterson said. “Just as before the disorderly conduct law, we would tell them about the 61-D and how they can issue it and this is what it is and this is what the fine is.”

After the roll call meeting, I joined Peterson and Lord on the West Georgetown route, later switching to LeBlanc’s Burleith patrol. Within minutes, Peterson mentioned the “P” word again.

“I’d much rather see a student talk to us than end up in cuffs at District 2,” Peterson said while peering down an alleyway along 36th Street. “That’s never our goal.”

The West Georgetown patrol, like its Burleith counterpart, has no defined route. It spans every street between the front gates and Wisconsin Avenue, bounded by Q Street to the north and M Street to the south. Peterson told me he prefers the route because of the area’s high traffic.

“I don’t ride Burleith as much as I ride West Georgetown,” he said. “The reason why is with more foot traffic, it’s easier to stay awake. It really has nothing to do with it being more exciting or anything else.”

The first response I observed came shortly before midnight on the 3400 block of N Street. As Peterson and a private security officer who drove the SNAP car approached the townhouse, partygoers peered out of a second-story window, but didn’t appear to quiet down. Peterson explained that he’s stopped at the house once before, but only as guests were leaving. This time, the party was just starting.

“We’re looking and listening for suspicious activity and excessive noise,” Peterson said. “If the noise is breaching the backyard into the street, that’s a sign.”

The interaction between Peterson and the woman who answered the door followed a pattern that SNAP representatives might call ideal—he told her that he could hear the party from the street, then gave her the opportunity to quiet her guests or end the party before MPD noticed. The woman smiled and thanked him, then closed the door.

“That seemed to be pretty effective, right?” Lord asked Peterson as returned to the car.

“We’ll see,” he said.

The visit, like all others that SNAP makes, will be documented on Peterson’s ever-present clipboard. He’ll submit a report of the incident to the Office of Off-Campus Student Life on Monday morning. (For incidents that involve students living on campus, reports are sent to the Office of Residence Life). Anne Koester, director of Off-Campus Student Life, will then contact, and possibly meet with, the students who live in the residence.

Koester decides when to dole out punitive sanctions, which can range from fines, mandatory work hours, and party restrictions to alcohol education classes, mandatory reflection papers, and disciplinary probation, based on a student’s judicial history and the details of the incident.

“It is my practice to follow up on all SNAP reports received by meeting with the students involved and discussing the relevant report with them,” she wrote in an email. “Whether the follow-up leads to disciplinary sanctions pursuant to the Code of Student Conduct depends on a variety of factors, such as the circumstances of the incident.”

The Office of Off-Campus Student Life prides itself on Koester’s ability to determine appropriate punitive action, according to Lord.

“Each one of these incidents is addressed on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “It’s not a presumption that students have done something wrong. Anne takes a lot of time and is really thoughtful in those conversations with students.”

Some students, such as Matt Lavin (COL ‘11), who rents a row house on Reservoir Road, agree with Lord. In January, SNAP shut down a party at his house while responding to a neighbor’s misinformed complaint. The following Monday, Koester emailed Lavin and his housemates with a request to meet with her. Although this kind of visit is called a “disciplinary meeting” by the Office of Off-Campus Student Life, Lavin was surprised to learn that it didn’t guarantee disciplinary action.

“I imagined it was going to be worse,” he said. “[Koester] told us what was in the SNAP report and went over the details to make sure it was all true. Since the call wasn’t meant for our house, there was no punishment. No anything.”


Shortly after midnight on Sunday morning, the West Georgetown SNAP patrol ran into its distant relative—a private security officer hired by the Citizens’ Association of Georgetown. Although no official relationship exists between CAG and SNAP, many of the hired officers who work for the groups personally know each other—they even worked for the same company until last fall.

The officer told Peterson about loud noises he heard on the 1300 block of 35th Street. A search of the area, however, turned up little evidence to back up his claim. Still, Peterson visited the alleged party house to tell residents about the complaint.

“All I hear is foot traffic,” he said. “I think I can hear something in the backyard, but it’s not that loud.”

A student answered the door, claiming that the noise came from a townhouse behind his property, and promised to talk with the residents. While shaking hands with Peterson, he thanked SNAP for stopping by.

“He told me he appreciated us,” Peterson said. “He said that when MPD shows up, it’s always a bit tense.”

Although the University pays three off-duty MPD officers, known as the reimbursable detail, to patrol West Georgetown and Burleith in conjunction with SNAP, students almost universally prefer to deal with SNAP.

“SNAP seems to be a better alternative to having to deal with Metro,” Lavin said. “It could be a lot worse.”

However, many residents argue that SNAP is a poor way to control off-campus parties. Community leaders, such as CAG President Jennifer Altemus and Burleith Citizens’ Association President Lenore Rubino, encourage residents to call 9-1-1 to report noise complaints.

“We haven’t found SNAP to be an effective deterrent because people still have parties in the same places over and over again,” Altemus said. “If there’s illegal activity, they should call the police. Most of the time SNAP was called, residents found it to be ineffective.”

As one of the people responsible for the creation of SNAP, Lord strongly disagreed.

“It’s frustrating when people choose not to use it,” she said. “We feel very strongly that we provide this resource and we’d like to reserve MPD for more serious things. We would like our neighbors to call SNAP first.”


Almost a mile away from West Georgetown, SNAP’s Burleith patrol wasn’t doing much work, proactive or otherwise. Only one call came in before midnight, but the caller, a Georgetown student, didn’t make a formal complaint.

According to LeBlanc, the number of complaints SNAP receives can vary wildly from weekend to weekend.

“There are nights where one neighborhood seems to have all the action going on and the other neighborhood will be dead,” he said. “It depends.”

But after a while, a call came into the SNAP hotline from a resident on the 3700 block of R Street, complaining about a party at a nearby student townhouse. According to LeBlanc, reasonable amounts of noise early in the evening can quickly become intolerable to some residents.

“Once we get past 11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. into the 12 a.m. range, the line between appropriate and inappropriate is much more well defined,” he said.

The SNAP car approached the party from the alleyway between R Street and Reservoir Road, where LeBlanc was told that the noise was loudest. As he stepped out of the car to speak with the party hosts, his phone rang again—it was the resident who filed the complaint, confirming that he had the right house.

“When SNAP showed up, there was no more than 15 people at the house,” Issei Nino (COL ‘12), who was celebrating his 21st birthday in the house on Saturday night, wrote in an email. “SNAP explained exactly what the neighbor complained about, and we immediately turned the music off and kept it extremely low for the rest of the evening.”

Despite Nino’s compliance, his case could potentially be hurt by the actions of his guests, whom he called “friends of friends who were visiting from Harvard.” According to LeBlanc, the guests were “rude and disrespectful” when he approached Nino’s back porch.

“That was a good instance where the residents of the house responded very nicely, but some of their guests were not as well behaved,” he said. “Those people are going to get to go home, but the people who live in that house are going to be called in for a meeting. If you’re a party host, you’re responsible for your guests’ behavior as well.”

On Wednesday, Koester requested a disciplinary meeting with Nino, who did not know SNAP was responding to a noise complaint at his house until LeBlanc walked around the block and knocked on his front door.  He plans to meet her on Thursday.

“He told us what happened and that he wanted to see those specific students leave, so we kicked them out immediately,” Nino wrote. “The student in question had been a pain all night actually, treating guests disrespectfully, so it was kind of nice that we had an excuse to kick him out.”

Ultimately, Nino believes that SNAP must balance its duel roles as educator and punisher to be effective.

“SNAP should be able to impose sanctions and potentially shut down the party if students aren’t compliant after their initial warnings,” he wrote. “SNAP’s initial goal should be to serve as a warning, but if warnings aren’t heeded then it’s the student’s fault and they should rightfully suffer the consequences.”


A day earlier, LeBlanc finally convinced his new panda-hat wearing friend to step onto the sidewalk. Although some SNAP representatives only leave their cars to talk to the hosts of unruly parties, he believes SNAP’s charge to “enhance student and neighborhood safety” also means taking care of those who might not be able to take care of themselves.

“There are times when we just want to make sure people get home safely,” he said. “We’ll walk them home, onto campus, wait with them until a SafeRides van comes to pick them up. There’s that judgment to consider, too—when they don’t need to be GERMed, but they’re not okay to get home on their own.”

LeBlanc’s friendly questioning of the student’s friends revealed that her brother lived immediately across the street on the 3300 block of Prospect Street. LeBlanc walked the student to the house, watching carefully as she stumbled up a staircase to the door.

“I’m not showing up with a badge,” he said hours later. “I’m showing up in a hoodie and clipboard. It puts people at ease.”

As she closed the door behind her, LeBlanc turned and began walking towards Wisconsin Avenue. Closing time means that she won’t be the only one who needs help getting home.

“I really want to be as friendly with them as much as I can be,” he said. “If they’re responsive to that, we can all have a great night.”

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