Julian Del Gaudio
Special to Mustang News
Turn down for what?
This question has captured millennials and made rapper Lil Jon millions. It’s been everywhere from T-shirts to coffee mugs to radio waves, but here in San Luis Obispo, a group has been turning down since 1993.
Welcome to the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program, or SNAP — the hipsters of turning down. And for what? The San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD).
SNAP was created in response to the large number of noise complaints made to the police department. SNAP officers spend their weekends addressing noise complaints and handing out penalties, allowing police officers to focus on more serious offenses such as DUIs.
“The program was developed to use students because of its peer-to-peer communication,” said Christine Wallace, the Neighborhood Outreach manager in San Luis Obispo who has been working with SNAP since 2013.
It’s easier to have someone around your age tell you to quiet down than a patrol officer who may not be as well received, she said.
SNAP is the first response. If SNAP officers come across a violation, they have the ability to issue a disturbance advisement card, or DAC, which is a formal warning that stays in effect for 24 hours.
If SLOPD receives another noise complaint within that period, an officer will come to the residence and issue a citation.
The first citation a police officer issues usually has a fine of $350. A second citation could cost you $700; after that, each citation is $1,000.
The citation does not just fall on the tenant renting the house — the landlord is also on the hook for the fines. If a noise citation is issued, the police department sends a letter to inform the landlord of the noise disturbance as well.
For students to be considered for employment, a SNAP candidate must submit an application to SLOPD’s human resources office. If chosen, a full formal interview is conducted with the potential candidate.
“After we do that, we narrow it down and have people go through a background process where they basically have to put down their entire life in front of our administrative sergeant,” Wallace said.
The job is only limited to students who attend Cal Poly, Cuesta College or Allan Hancock College. Their jurisdiction is in San Luis Obispo.
Students go through a three- to four-month training process before being dubbed “field ready” by SLOPD. During training, applicants learn how to issue citations, write tow tags and effectively communicate with those on the receiving end of a noise complaint.
“We bring in conflict resolution training to really show our staff how to read body language and how to assess a situation; how to use specific words when talking to someone intoxicated; how to phrase things so the intoxicated person isn’t going to pop off,” Wallace said.
Currently, there are seven officers on staff who have gone through this process and been appointed.
One of those seven is materials engineering senior Calvin Noetzel, who has been working for SNAP for about two and a half years.
There’s a lot of subjectivity, Noetzel said, since officers don’t necessarily need to issue a DAC. But they do have to address violations of the noise ordinance.
The municipal code states that any noise after 10 p.m. that can be heard 50 feet from the property line can be considered a noise violation.
Most violations begin with a phone call. Once it’s been called in, SNAP goes into action and shows up at the door.
“General reaction: They’re obviously a little bummed they got called on and they’re obviously a little distraught about it, but after we explain to them why we’re here and what our purpose is, they calm down,” Noetzel said.
In January alone, SLOPD had approximately 164 noise complaints specific to people socializing. Of those, 40 DACs were given out, and police issued 18 citations.
Video by Mariah Bravo
If a DAC is issued, only one resident has to take responsibility for the party, but the entire house is placed on a nine-month premise list.
“This means that for the next nine months, the police come out instead of SNAP, and it would be in their hands whether or not to write a ticket,” Noetzel said. “So it’s kind of an intermediate step to try and get people to calm down.”
But sometimes, a SNAP officer’s job isn’t as easy as knocking on a front door. Some of the common things Noetzel deals with are people being belligerent, outright refusing to sign the DAC or hand over an ID. In those cases, SNAP protocol is to call police for backup.
“We’re out there doing everything an officer wouldn’t necessarily need to do quite yet,” Noetzel said.
Graphic by Jonathan Chodzko
SNAP officers do not put on a patrol uniform before they go to work. They operate a decommissioned police car during their shift. But SNAP responsibilities don’t end at noise complaints; they also conduct parking enforcement in the residential districts around campus, tag abandoned vehicles for towing and do a good amount of graffiti abatement.
The SNAP program isn’t just backed by the police department, it’s also influenced by the San Luis Obispo city government.
In 2014, Mayor Jan Marx devoted every effort to increase neighborhood services and enhance the SNAP program.
“(Noise) is a fairly major problem in San Luis Obispo, and it’s gotten worse over the years. That’s partly because the neighborhood around the university has become dominated by people in the student age group,” Marx said.
With a melting pot of families and students living in San Luis Obispo, Marx says SNAP officers’ presence is especially helpful.
“There’s a conflict in the lifestyle between families and working people and student-age people, whose responsibilities are really limited to their own education or their own work, so they tend to be more individualistic and less community-minded,” she said.
Marx said the SNAP program not only benefits the community as a whole but also offers great experience for students who participate. While some students can add club participation and academic achievement to their resumes, SNAP officers are members of local government and law enforcement before they graduate.
“I think the program should be expanded if possible. A lot of times, the students who participate find that it’s actually a good career move for them in the future,” Marx said.