There have been many debates over the concept of Community Billing. Some have questioned the legality, while others question its effectiveness. Community Billing can be a deterrent to vandalism however, in and of it’s self it is not the most effective deterrent. A comprehensive approach to vandalism control needs to occur. There needs to be a level of awareness, some education and finally a punitive measure.
Project P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Responsibility in Damage Elimination) is an example of a comprehensive approach to vandalism control.
There are three basic goals to Project P.R.I.D.E.
1. Increased communication between building staff (RA’s/RD’s) and custodial/maintenance staff.
2. Increased student awareness of vandalism in the halls and how communities are held responsible through community billing.
3. Increased student behaviors, which demonstrate pride in their living areas.
One of they key elements to the success of a program like Project P.R.I.D.E. is to have all levels of staff buy in to the program. The Resident Assistant and Resident Directors, as well as the custodians and tradesworkers must have a clear understanding of the goals of the program. Once the staff buys in, then they can “sell” the program to the students. Vandalism control needs to be an on-going discussion. Staff should have this as a weekly agenda at their meetings.
Staff needs to work together to identify “problem” floors and to come up with strategies for improvement. Resident Directors need to provide opportunities for Resident Assistants and Facilities staff to communicate about what is happening in the building. It is a good idea for RD’s to meet weekly with custodial supervisors. Staff needs to spend time walking through the building and assessing damages. Students are more likely to vandalize that which is already broken, so it is critical that work orders are reported and attended to in a timely fashion.
The next step is increased student awareness. Students (and parents) need to have a clear understanding of what community billing is and why it is done. This can be achieved through newsletters, posters and floor meetings.
Two components of the PROJECT P.R.I.D.E. program are “Community Alert” and “Community Recognition”. Each time damage occurs on a floor, staff posts Community Alert posters. These posters identify what damage has been done, when it occurred and how much the floor will be charged. Individuals are given the opportunity to come forward with information regarding the responsible party. If that does not happen within a specified amount of time, then the floor is billed. On the flip side, Community Recognition posters are put up weekly by staff. Each floor that did not have damage in a given week gets recognized. The poster keeps track of how many weeks each floor has gone without damage. Staff will often work with Hall Council to provide rewards, such as pizza parties for floors that go an entire semester without damage.
Recognition is a big factor in the success of the program. While community billing can work as a deterrent, it is important to offer rewards for students who do not participate in behavior that leads to vandalism. Community Recognition is one example, the “Bucks” program is another. Students who attend programs, clean up messes, pass monthly health and safety inspections, or exhibit any other behavior that promotes pride in their living area are given a buck. Each month, hall council holds a raffle and students may place all of their bucks into the raffle.
Project P.R.I.D.E. has made an impact on my campus. Once we developed strategies to achieve our goals we were able to go back to our objectives to see just how successful we were.
These were our objectives:
1. Reduction in amount charged to residents for common area damages in the residence halls.
2. Reduction in the number of appeals received for community billing.
3. Decrease in the number of damage/vandalism related work orders.
Within the first year, our campus saw a 50% reduction in the amount we billed for damages. Our appeal rate went down 70% and our work orders for damages decreased by 44%.
Submitted by Beth Moriarty, Associate Director of Residence Life and Housing, Bridgewater State College