Emily Bohatch | Asst. Local Editor
Fest parties have been getting shut down far earlier this season, due to strict enforcement of Athens’ Nuisance Party Ordinance.
The trend is one that has continued from last year, when the Athens Police Department reported a record 55 nuisance party shut-downs, even while noise complaints and arrests were at a 10-year low and most alcohol offenses were far below 10-year averages.
Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said he expects that number to be surpassed by the end of 2015.
“So far this year, we’re already at 45 (citations),” he said. “If we hold true, we’re going to be at 80 or 90.”
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said the law gives his officers the power they need to effectively shut down a party.
“We’re trying to get ahead of an issue that’s ongoing,” he said.
Pyle added police prefer to shut down parties rather than focus on doling out individual fines to partygoers and residents.
“If we were in the business of trying to get as many fines as possible, I guess we’d let the party keep going and dole out (violations) as time came on,” he said. “But the idea is not to have to spend so much resources on one house.”
Though in the last 10 years, nuisance party violations averaged 17 per year, in 2013 and 2014, APD saw totals break 50 after the department made an emphasis on stricter enforcement following a period of what the city deemed to be wild, out-of-control parties from fest seasons spanning 2009 to 2012.
Naturally, spring fest season sees the most nuisance party violations. The city experiences another bump in October, when Homecoming and the Halloween block party occur, Wiehl said.
A nuisance party violation comes with a $150 fine, but is split between the residents of the property in violation. If residents fail to pay a fine within 30 days, they face minor misdemeanor charges.
The ordinance itself contains a litany of violations law enforcement can use as reasoning for shutting a party down.
Those include various alcohol related offenses, noise violations, litter violations and partygoers obstructing traffic on a street or sidewalk, to name a few.
The law becomes really effective during fest season, as well as other major party weekends, as Wiehl said the violations police are looking for then change from typical weekends, when law enforcement targets late-night noise.
Athens City Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, said the ordinance grew out of concern for both permanent residents and student renters’ living conditions.
“I think a big part of the push to tweak the legislation (was the) safety and quality of life (which) were some of the big underlying factors,” Butler said.
The wide breadth of the law was established “to empower some people in the police department with better enforcement and the opportunity to…deter (parties) if safety and nuisance issues were overwhelmingly out of control,” he said.
Wiehl said that keeping a party violation-free might not be the easiest idea.
“I will tell you that everyone tries in an event to keep things clean,” Wiehl said. “But then when everybody gets good and drunk, nobody cares.”