DURHAM — Don Ball has had fewer sleepless nights since the Duke lacrosse case erupted in his Durham neighborhood.
Off-campus incidents involving Duke University students for the 2006-07 school year declined more than 75 percent from the previous year, according to a recent report by Duke's Office of Judicial Affairs.
For neighbors, the drop indicates how the lacrosse case, in part, has caused students to realize the ramifications of their behavior, said Ball, 46, who has lived in the Trinity Park neighborhood, which borders Duke's East Campus, for 16 years.
"Everyone was nervous and concerned," Ball said. "There was a heightened awareness of not misbehaving off-campus. And I think it had a positive effect for a lot of people."
Continued police enforcement has helped students think twice about their actions, said Christine Pesetski, Duke's assistant dean of mediation and off-campus services.
Also significant, she said, was the university's purchase of 13 homes near campus that had been rented to students.
Some of those houses had been the scene of loud, drunken parties in previous years. One of them, on Buchanan Boulevard, was the location of a lacrosse team party in March 2006, after which an escort-service dancer accused team members of raping her. Three players were charged with sexual assault but were later exonerated.
Pesetski's office handled 212 cases in 2005-06 and gave out 156 sanctions. Most of those punishments were warnings. Last year, there were 48 cases with 74 students facing sanctions, which were mostly warnings and probation.
"The short-term conclusion is perhaps students are making better choices and students and neighbors are working together," Pesetski said.
Alcohol infractions continue to make up the bulk of off-campus cases, the majority of them involving underage drinking.
Duke is starting a program that advises off-campus students on making good decisions.
Part of that program included a gathering Wednesday in which students, permanent residents, police and university officials met at the Newman Catholic Student Center. It was a low-key event where Duke seniors such as Melissa Fundora were able to get acquainted with neighbors.
"Hopefully, everyone will have a better understanding of where each other comes from," said Fundora, 20, of Merrick, N.Y.
Brandon Roane, 20, the liaison between the school and its off-campus residents for Duke Student Government, said he hoped the meeting would make his job easier. "Communication needs to be key between Durham residents and Duke students," said Roane, a junior from Baltimore.
Ball and other Monmouth Avenue residents often introduce themselves to their student neighbors while handing them a flier explaining their expectations. Trinity Park neighbors once held picnics for returning students, said Barker French, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years.
Students once viewed the neighborhood as a place where parties would go unchecked by the school. But the lacrosse case made school officials realize that they need to be more active in off-campus affairs, French said.
That has changed how students and residents view one another.
"In the end, we've become acquaintances," French said. "We see them, we wave to them. We say hello. And that makes them a part of the community."
Even with reduced off-campus incidents, there's still a way to go before harmony reigns.
"Some students make an effort to find out about parking and all the things that might annoy their neighbors," said Sarah Nevill, 55, who has lived in Trinity Park for a year. "And others make no effort what so ever."
Staff writer Stanley B. Chambers Jr. can be reached at 956-2426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.