The London Police Service has released new statistics on the much-debated Project LEARN.
Numbers from a LPS media release compares the amount of criminal charges in 2012 and 2013 during Project LEARN, showing an increase in overall charges, and an increase in criminal charges against students. This year, 19.5 per cent of criminal charges were against students, an increase from 11.5 per cent in 2012.
Ken Steeves, media relations officer for the London police, credited the enforcement’s extension in hours during the five weeks as a contributing factor for the increase in student charges.
“It’s expensive having to deploy so many officers in those five weeks, but we do this because of the actions displayed,” Steeves said, adding that officers found 3,000 to 5,000 students wandering on one particular street close to Western campus the day of Homecoming.
“We target liquor enforcement violators because we know things stem from alcohol consumption. They call alcohol ‘liquid courage’ for a reason.”
From August 27 to September 28, the London Police Service facilitated the Liquor Enforcement and Reduction of Noise program, patrolling streets for liquor offences and excessive noise. Conducting Project LEARN for eight consecutive years, the Police’s stated goal has been to ensure lawful enjoyment for community members during students’ first month back in London, focusing on areas surrounding Western, Fanshawe College and the downtown core.
“The general public is very happy with the enforcement taken place by Project LEARN this year,” Steeves said. “We’re not about prohibiting fun — the message we are always delivering is to be responsible and respectful of others.”
Western’s University Students’ Council has voiced their displeasure with the city’s initiative before, hoping for a less severe approach to keeping students and their London neighbours safe and happy. USC president Pat Whelan has advocated for a softer way of building a foundational relationship without the need of police enforcement.
“We think that a priority for students is to be recognized as members of the community and as neighbours themselves,” Whelan told The Gazette in September. “Building communities from the neighbourhoods up and really solidifying those relationships is a great approach to solving the same problem without enforcement.”
While officers seek to patrol all London streets for the five-week period, Steeves said their focus on student neighbourhoods is an integral part of their initiative. “We’ve been asked why we target students, but we don’t,” says Steeves. “It just so happens that these large gatherings are in areas that are heavily populated by students. If they were in a completely different area, we would be doing the same thing.”
With no reported injuries or major incidents during this five-week period, Steeves is confident that this initiative will continue to benefit the London community. “We can’t speculate on what’s going to happen in the future,” Steeves said. “But we would love to have a year without the need for Project LEARN — that’s our goal.”
— With files from Richard Raycraft