City officials estimate the cost of an Oct. 12 riot near Laurel Park in Bellingham at more than $20,000, including damages to public property and the cost of extra staff responding. But in a letter published Nov. 22 on the City of Bellingham’s website, Mayor Kelli Linville and Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard write that the total impact of the incident goes beyond a dollar figure.
“While dollar figures are worth noting, they do not fully describe the true costs of this incident to individuals, to the City of Bellingham, to Western Washington University and to our entire community,” they write. “Our officers were subjected to more than two hours of flying glass and other objects, and some received minor injuries. Neighbors in the area felt afraid in their homes, and some had property damaged. People driving by had vehicles damaged, including a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus. News of the riot traveled far and wide, sullying our otherwise excellent reputation as a safe community offering top-notch educational opportunities.”
Linville and Shepard penned the letter as a follow-up report on what the city and university have done in response to the event, during which hundreds of people packed a city block near WWU. Some threw objects at responding police officers and damaged property, both public and private. Photos and videos of the incident spread quickly through social media and in news reports over the following days.
Eleven people have been arrested in connection to the riot. Two of the 11 are WWU students. Bellingham police continue to review images and videos taken Oct. 12, and more arrests could come in the future.
In their letter, Linville and Shepard listed a series of actions the city and the university have taken following the incident:
– Increased emphasis patrols initiated by local law enforcement immediately after the riot are continuing indefinitely.
– Local law enforcement agencies are collaborating on increased civil disturbance training to ensure all agencies are well-prepared to effectively and safely manage incidents involving large numbers of people.
– Representatives from the city and the university, including student government, have attended numerous community and neighborhood meetings since the riot to answer questions and gather ideas, and will continue to meet when requested.
– Bellingham Police Chief Clifford Cook and WWU Interim Police Chief Darin Rasmussen will speak to incoming freshmen and their parents at orientation, emphasizing the importance of students being respectful, law-abiding community members and the penalties for alcohol-related criminal and inappropriate behavior.
– The city and university are exploring a collaborative process to identify and address problematic properties—such as “party-houses”—based on police calls, citizen complaints and student input. This initiative will coincide with the city’s broader effort to address various landlord/tenant issues, a priority on the city’s work plan for 2014.
– WWU’s administration, student government, the Campus Community Coalition and other groups are reviewing existing community outreach and discussing new programs to foster closer relations between students and their neighbors, with a specific emphasis on reducing large, unruly parties, underage drinking and alcohol-fueled behaviors among students.