Potential conflicts of on-campus law enforcement worthy of consideration
Ken Valosky, vice president for Administration and Finance, sent an email to the entire student body last Wednesday regarding a recent proposal for a major change to the Department of Public Safety.
“The University is currently considering transitioning a portion of its Public Safety Department to a full service law enforcement agency,” it said. “This proposed initiative is one of several activities currently underway as we continue to look for ways to enhance the safety of the University community.”
The email then went on to emphasize the complexity of the decision, highlight the importance of input from the University community and finally announce four dates and locations for open community forums to discuss the proposal.
This proposal to transition a portion of the Department of Public Safety to a full-fledged law enforcement agency undoubtedly begs questions from the point of view of a University student.
Why does the University need any more enforcement on campus? How much more than our current Department of Public Safety can a law enforcement agency do? Is the University’s campus really not safe enough? What is the agenda behind ramping up the power of Public Safety?
On a fairly condensed college campus in a very affluent area of low crime and high-activity local police, it seems completely superfluous to have “real” campus law enforcement.
You can not walk on campus for two minutes without seeing at least one public safety officer, either on foot, on a bike, in a car or in a booth. And the number of unsafe situations due to criminal activity is fairly low in comparison to other university campuses.
The average student, it seems, has to feel safer at the University than in most other places, college campus or otherwise, in relation to crime.
However, the one respect in which the average student does not feel very safe on campus is in relation to disciplinary action, specifically for alcohol. In an ironic sense, when it comes to the transportation and consumption of alcohol on campus, students feel unsafe because of Public Safety.
It is no secret that the University is stricter than many universities when it comes to alcohol enforcement; it just takes a short trip down the road to Haverford College to see evidence of that.
Disciplinary action on first alcohol offences and harsh punishments like fines and suspensions on subsequent offenses create a policy of zero tolerance on underage drinking. Residence Assistants and Public Safety Officers making rounds every night to inspect suspicious situations show strict adherence to the policy.
It might come across to non-students that such a crackdown on underage drinking may be a great way to ensure safety on campus, for it is indeed true that underage drinking, especially at the college level, can be dangerous.
However college drinking is persistent, and it will not stop simply because of on-campus rule enforcement. The culture of fear created by strict alcohol enforcement compels students to get creative.
Instead of throwing parties in the Quad or on South Campus or in the West Campus apartments and risk getting a knock from the RA or questions from a Public Safety Officer, students are likely to take their parties elsewhere—to the bars in Bryn Mawr or to an off-campus house or to the popular College Hall Apartments, infamously known as The Courts—so they do not have to worry about being too noisy, obvious or rambunctious. They can let loose and let go of their worries for a while, because, after all, that is why they are drinking in the first place.
But these off-campus drinking locations are most often even more dangerous than their on-campus counterparts. To get into the bars, underage students have to risk getting caught by local police and getting into trouble not only with the University, but with the law as well.
Since off-campus housing for students is not within walking distance to the University, students often have to pack themselves into cars in unsafe and driver-distracting numbers, often with drivers they do not even know.
At house parties the alcohol often is provided, and students have no idea what they are drinking until they are too drunk to remember their night.
And the constant police presence at The Courts, especially within the last few weeks, poses problems for students trying to keep a clean record.
The mission page of the Department of Public Safety on University website states, “The mission of the Department of Public Safety is to provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to the learning process for all members of the University community.”
Chris Gelardi is a junior humanities major from Toledo, OH. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While it is indeed the fact that Public Safety does the portion of its job well in keeping the University community safe from crime, the average student mindset in regard to Public Safety is almost inarguably focused on the culture of fear it creates in relation to alcohol enforcement. The Department of Public Safety and the University Administration combined seem to be enforcers of authoritarian law instead of stewards of a safe environment for learning and growth.
When students hear that “the University is currently considering transitioning a portion of its Public Safety Department to a full service law enforcement agency,” they hear, “now we can get in real trouble just for doing what college kids do.” Exit local sheriff, enter gestapo.
I encourage all students to attend a community forum on the Public Safety proposal to voice their opinions, both appreciation for Public Safety and dissent on the culture of fear.
They are being held on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema; Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema; Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Driscoll Auditorium and Thursday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m. in the Driscoll Auditorium.