Students were welcomed home from Winter Break with a revised Oxford city ordinance that, in effect, lowered the penalty for trash violations from a fourth degree misdemeanor to a minor misdemeanor.
Miami junior Alec Miz and his housemates expressed relief at the change after receiving a ticket themselves last semester under the old penalty.
“I think that the new law is good because we had our trash on the side of our house-and even though it was in trashcans-we got a littering ticket for beer cans that were on top of a table, which was on the front porch,” Miz said. “I got ambushed by a cop on our front lawn and he just assumed that it was my stuff, even though four people live there.”
According to Oxford Ordinance No. 2950, the decision to make violations a fourth degree misdemeanor was passed last April in an effort to discourage students from being careless with their trash.
A fourth degree misdemeanor appears on a perpetrator’s criminal record and requires them to appear in court, pay additional fines and possibly serve jail time. It cannot be expunged from a person’s record without an attorney.
The ordinance, after being approved by Oxford City Council, went into effect Dec. 20.
“I think (the police) go overboard, and the new law won’t hurt in any way,” Miz said. “Going to court was a three-hour waste of time and we had to pay the extra money, so it was a nuisance.”
If a student receives a minor misdemeanor, however, he or she may pay the ticket without having to go to court at all.
“What we have now is more fair and more reasonable penalties for any violations that you have with trash,” said Bobbe Burke, Miami University coordinator of off-campus affairs. “There was an effort to re-think (what passed in April) and it happened and what we got was a better ending.”
Police code trash violations found under Oxford Ordinance Section 521.08 include littering and allowing litter to remain upon public, private or semi-public property or upon the premises of another. Service code trash violations found under Oxford Ordinance Section 931.03 address the placement and maintenance of containers, such as garbage cans.
University policy mandates that every week, copies of tickets issued to students for trash, noise and outdoor furniture violations be forwarded to the Office of Ethics and Conflict Resolution. That office automatically forwards them to the Office of Off-Campus Affairs.
When a student receives a ticket, Burke sends out a warning letter, along with a copy of the city code, that explains how to fix the problem.
“You’ll get a letter that says that we need you, and everyone who lives in your house or apartment, to pay more attention to what you do with your trash,” Burke said. “We will offer all the assistance that we can, but we do not want you to be a repeat offender … and with two or three repeat offenders in the same house, even if it goes to different people, you are all responsible.”
She added that no addresses last semester received a second violation, and that that was good to know. If a second violation had occurred, the people receiving the citations would have been called into a meeting. A third violation would have subjected students to the student code of conduct through the Office of Ethics and Conflict Resolution.
According to Burke, nine letters were issued last semester for outdoor furniture (such as beer pong tables), 18 for litter and 24 for noise.
“People who own property here don’t want Oxford to look like a trash pile,” Burke said. “We want to clean it up and change the culture.”
Richard Nault, vice president for student affairs at Miami, agreed.
“A lot of Oxford permanent community residents get frustrated when they come into town and come to church and yards are trashed,” Nault said. “It’s unsightly.”
Burke said that letters are not sent to fraternity houses because they fall under the jurisdiction of the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Leadership, but she warned students against being less careful just because penalties have been lowered again.
“We do not want students to misunderstand that this does not make trash less of a problem,” she said. “If you get a second violation you’ll get a fourth degree misdemeanor and you’ll be back in the same situation with a criminal record and we don’t want that.”
Nault believes that it is important to have a community that reflects the best of both Miami and Oxford communities.
“Members of the community put a lot of pressure on city council to resolve this,” Nault said. “How you get students to be respectful tenants on property is a continuing issue in the community.”