Just before 9 p.m. on a chilly April Saturday, Carrie Bennett sat in the driver’s seat of the SUV she uses to patrol parts of Charles Village, Tuscany-Canterbury and Oakenshawe overnight from Thursday to Sunday morning.
The car was parked along the triangle where North Charles Street, East 34th Street and Greenway all come together across from Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus.
A female student, slightly loopy, waved through the driver’s side window. As Bennett rolled the window down, the student placed an extended pointer finger to her lips—signaling shush—and told Bennett, “I’m quiet.”
“I know you are,” Bennett responded.
For the past five years, Bennett has worked as Johns Hopkins University’s community liaison, better know to students as “The Shush Lady.” Her job is to try to keep the peace between students and the university’s neighbors, two very different lifestyles forced to coexist in urban neighborhoods primarily made up of single-family homes.
Prior to Bennett taking over as community liaison, relations between the community and students were hitting new lows. Student parties were quickly becoming nuisances for neighbors, and students felt overzealous neighbors were trampling on their rights.
Bennett explained that too many students were being arrested because of these kinds of problems, and an arrest can make it difficult for students to find jobs—the main reason for attending the university.
Mary Pat Clarke, D-District 14, said that community leaders demanded Bennett’s position to resolve the tension between neighbors and students.
Clarke said creating a position that would put academic pressure on students in addition to the threat of law enforcement has helped keep students under control. If students receive “three strikes” in an academic year for off-campus incidents, they can be kicked out of school.
“She’s quite good at it. Every September—right when the students come back, maybe August—I go with her up and down the 200 and 300 blocks of University Parkway, we knock on every door, because so many of the houses have undergraduates living in them,” Clarke said.
Bennett, who often greets students with an affectionate “hi, babies,” views her job as a guide for students. She doesn’t just want to be the person who tells students to keep quiet. She also wants to help them avoid problems with neighbors completely.
For the most part, Bennett’s rapport with the students is friendly but professional. Students regularly stop to say hello and chat. Bennett even posed for a picture with one student.
When students do get in trouble for a party that has gotten out of hand, Bennett said she feels somewhat responsible.
"Guys, I feel like I let you down. Because whatever I did, I didn't teach you how to do this," Bennett said she feels like telling students who get in trouble.
Bennett spent 12 years as a campus police officer, so she has much to teach. Still, she is frustrated when students do not understand she is there to help them avoid serious trouble.
On a recent evening, she had been trying to quite a rowdy group of young men. After initially getting the students under control she noticed the group laughing. She also heard splattering on the sidewalk behind her. When she turned around she saw a student urinating. When the perpetrator noticed that he had gotten Bennett’s attention, he took off running.
The group of students she had stopped all insisted they had no clue as to the perpetrator's identity. Bennett said the incident irked her and that she felt disrespected. But, she added, such behavior is rare.
She also knows that college students will behave like, well, college students.
On patrol recently, Bennett stood outside the Phi Kappa Psi house, in the 300 block of East 33rd Street, and reminded the fraternity brothers, who were hosting a fundraiser, about noise and to admit only students with college identification cards.
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity attracted a bit of infamy when then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake used the fraternity's former house in Tuscany-Canterbury as a backdrop for a press conference announcing a nuisance abatement bill.
On this recent night the party was kept under control.
Bennett had to stop by a few times throughout the night to remind the students to keep off the porch and to keep the music down. When she noticed the house was at capacity, she pulled out her iPhone.
"This is where Twitter comes in handy," Bennett said.
She tapped out a message on the micro blogging website alerting students they'd have to get their keg beer elsewhere.
"Phi Psi is full. No one in for a while," she wrote.
Jennifer Erickson, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, said Bennett’s efforts have been apparent. Erickson said that when she took over as the civic association’s president, she’d receive e-mail complaints about students every month. She said she hasn’t received a complaint in a year.
Erickson said she has seen a major difference. She lives in the 3000 block of St. Paul Street, just down the street from a fraternity house, and Erickson hasn’t once had to call Bennett to complain.
“She’s a great asset. I’m glad she’s here,” Erickson said.
In spite of Bennett's diligence, an occasional soiree gets out of hand.
The biggest disturbance of her recent night on patrol came from the Northway Apartments, when party guests tossed a chair from a balcony onto the driveway below.
Bennett and Baltimore City police arrived at the tower, and after waiting to be let in, took an elevator up to the seventh floor. Two police officers loudly knocked on the door and one covered the peephole with his finger.
After the door was answered the police cleared all non-residents from the apartment. The police officers played bad cop, giving the students a tongue lashing, while good cop Bennett delivered a stern, albeit less-threatening warning to the students.
With the conflict over, quiet returned to the Northway Apartments.
Quiet generally remained through the very early hours of Sunday. The rest of the evening was spent at the corner of 33rd and St. Paul streets. There, the dead-enders congregate outside the University Market to scarf down sandwiches and smoke cigarettes.
As 3:30 a.m. rolled around Bennett began to chase students off the street.
"Time to go home," she told them.
After a quick stop in the market for a sandwich, Bennett's shift was over. Driving back at the intersection of Charles and 29th streets a cab was stopped at the light. As the SUV crept through the intersection a voice shouted from the cab's window.
"Hey Carrie!" the voice called out.
Bennett waved back but the look on her face obviously indicated one thing. She wished the shouting student would "shush."