By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard acknowledged Monday that the school is facing challenges when it comes to student drug and alcohol use, but said an off-campus melee over the weekend is counter to the university’s culture.
Bellingham police have arrested three nonstudents in the party that turned into a riot Saturday, but the investigation continues.
About a half-mile from campus, police squad cars were damaged, street signs were knocked down, and revelers threw beer cans and other items at officers. Police responded with pepper spray to disperse them, Bellingham Sgt. Mike Scanlon said.
In fact, Police Chief Cliff Cook told the mayor and City Council on Monday that police used their entire stock of pepper balls, smoke canisters and other non-lethal devices.
“We depleted our crowd control munitions, so we’ve ordered more,” Cook said, according to the Bellingham Herald.
The university is working with police to help find any young people who threw things during efforts to break up the riot, Shepard said. If any students were involved in disruptive criminal behavior, they will face university discipline up to expulsion.
Shepard is worried Western will gain an unwarranted reputation for being a party school.
“We are simply stunned that this would happen in Bellingham,” he said.
Bellingham police said Monday they have several detectives working the case, but they had no updates to share.
Shepard said the school works hard to avoid a party atmosphere, making sure prospective students know the campus has no fraternities and is focused more on community service than partying.
“I really believe the vast majority of our students are actually disgusted by this,” he said.
University crime statistics show 19 students were arrested in 2012 for liquor law violations, and nine were arrested last year for drug-related violations. Those numbers are down considerably from 2010 and 2011, when there were 96 and 66 liquor law violation arrests respectively, and 19 and 40 drug-related violations.
University spokesman Paul Cocke said expulsions and suspensions for breaking the university’s drug and alcohol policies are rare because few students are found to be repeat offenders.
Students suspected of violating any part of the student conduct code must meet with a staff member. Repeat violators face a series of potential punishments ranging from eviction from on-campus housing to referral for possible treatment and academic suspension.
The president of Western’s student government said her board planned to vote Monday on an official response to the incident, condemning it.
Associated Students President Carly Roberts, who lives a few blocks from the riot, said she was dumbfounded by it.
“Prior to Saturday night, it was not something I ever considered in the realm for Bellingham,” Roberts said Monday.
The senior studying political science said Western students are eager to make things right with their Bellingham community.
“Parents should rest assured that the whole Western community is coming together in condemnation of the things that happened,” said Roberts, whose hometown is Olympia.
She said students voluntarily spent Sunday morning cleaning up the mess from the party that drew a few hundred people.
“I’m proud of how the student body is responding,” Roberts said. “My inbox is full of people who want to do something.”