By Mariam Asaad
Three weeks into the semester, there have already been nineteen alcohol-related incidents, four of which involved arrests and citations being issued by law enforcement agencies; the others involved campus conduct charges being filed.
The College attempts to resolve alcohol-related offenses through an informal process. Offending students are required to meet with Student Affairs staff to discuss the incident. In the case of repeated offenses, students must discuss possible plans of action with Travis Greene, Dean of Students.
Considering that the semester has only just begun, the number of incidents may seem high. According to Greene, however, it is not entirely incongruous.
“I hear this every year … why are there increased arrests? My sense is there’s always a spike of [police] activity at the beginning of the year, perhaps to send a message that ‘hey, we’re paying attention’ … but when you look at the numbers, I don’t know if there’s really a noticeable or statistically significant increase,” Greene said. “I mean, I’ve certainly met with a number of students already and we’re only a couple of weeks into the semester … [but] when you compare last year’s conduct statistics and say this is different, it really depends on the circumstances behind it.”
Students have expressed concern about the presence of law enforcement agencies in student-heavy residential areas near campus, especially during off-campus parties.
“There were a lot of people on our front lawn, porch, sidewalk and street. I think that’s concerning for the police,” said the host of a High Street party who was approached by Grinnell Police Department officers earlier this semester. “[The police] said ‘be cautious when throwing parties and also, just so you know, if we stop someone on the street with an open container and they’re publicly intoxicated and we can trace the source of that intoxication back to your party, then you’re liable for that.’ And then they just parked in the parking lot outside Mears and just stayed there.”
Police Chief Dennis Reilly confirmed the presence of GPD officers on High Street.
“I was over there on Friday [Aug. 30], and then they were over there Saturday night, Sunday morning, and I want to say, in both instances, later on during the night arrests were made for public intoxication,” he said.
In addition to the police, Steve Briscoe, Director of Security, has also approached hosts of off-campus parties about alcohol-related offenses, harm reduction and liability minimization.
“We threw a party Friday [Sept. 6] that spilled out on the front … basically [Briscoe] told us that police surveillance will be increasingly significantly [and that] they’re going to start making arrests for the person responsible for the party,” said the host of another party.
Referring to students’ complaints about GPD’s presence at off-campus parties, Reilly draws attention to the safety and security concerns that arise during such gatherings.
“You have a get-together, you end up with 30-40 people in there. Pretty soon into it, you start getting people walking in who are definitely not college students. Not a good thing. You don’t know who is coming, where they’re coming from, who they are. We had a couple incidents last year of people not associated with the College attending off-campus parties, and there were a couple instances where that didn’t turn out too well,” he said.
In addition to security concerns, there have been instances of illegal behavior at off-campus houses. Earlier, at the beginning of the semester, a letter was sent to all off-campus residents on behalf of Reilly and the Grinnell Police Department.
“Unfortunately we have experienced some issues at residences rented to college students,” the letter said. “In Grinnell, we aggressively address issues that affect the quality of life of our residents, regardless of the geographic location. We have state code that prohibits underage drinking and public intoxication.”
While the increased police presence—perceived or real—is a source of concern for several students, Greene said the motivations behind law enforcement stem from concern.
“It seems like [Reilly] is more about enforcement than other police chiefs … but at the end of the day it’s to make sure that community members are safe and not putting themselves at risk,” Greene said. “But there’s no concerted effort that I’m aware of as far as targeting our students. It’s my hope, at least, that if they’re reaching out to students in … areas with a dense population of college students that they would also be doing similar strategies for other areas in town where there might be concerns.”
While Reilly acknowledges other areas of town also merit police attention, he points out that there is a higher concentration of misdemeanors at off-campus parties.
“I sometimes use the analogy of when you go fishing where do you go? Do you go to the pond that you know is empty or do you go to the pond that’s got a lot of fish in it? Same thing with us. If I know that I’ve got 150 kids partying on High Street on a Friday night, I’m going to expect my officers to be in the area,” he said. “But to say that the officers of the department are pretty much solely focused on the college kids couldn’t be farther from the truth … We have a lot of things going on … we have a lot of issues to be dealing with.”
Ultimately, students, too, recognize the legitimacy of Reilly’s concerns and, consequently, have made more concerted efforts to follow the law.
“I obviously understand [Reilly’s] concerns,” said the host of the party on Aug. 30. “I think for us as a house … a difference [was] we were more aware, asking students to keep their open containers off the streets. I think that’s a big precaution we take.”
In terms of incidents involving Campus Safety and Security, Briscoe attributes the increase in recorded violations to his amped up patrolling.
“Would you say right now we’re seeing more violations? I would say, ‘Yeah, we are seeing more violations.’ But why we are seeing more is because probably I’m out there on the bicycle more,” he said. “I have a love for bicycles right now, so you will probably see me out there more at night.”
While students may prefer that Briscoe turn a blind eye to their activities while on patrol, federal law requires that Briscoe and Campus Safety and Security staff make contact with students found to be violating laws related to alcohol.
“If I ride around, I’m required to make contact. If I see somebody with liquor that’s underage, I’m required to make contact with them. I can’t turn the other way, because I could get the College in trouble—federally,” he said.
Campus Safety and Security may be more active than in previous years, in part due to increased patrolling, but their goals are geared towards keeping students safe.
“Should you expect us to be more vigilant than in the past? Yeah. Why? We want to help cut down and do our part on the abuse of alcohol. We want to stay on top of the enforcement part of it. We want to be a part of the educational process,” Briscoe said.
Whereas several students may think that the jurisdiction of both Campus Safety and Security and Judicial Council (JudCo) is limited to campus, this is not the case. Two years ago, the Committee on Student Life voted to extend the jurisdiction off-campus; this is mostly exercised for repeated or egregious offences.
“Could Briscoe or Campus Safety and Security write people off or have them go to JudCo for things that happen off-campus? Sure they could … Is that a practice of Campus Safety and Security to be patrolling and writing people off? Absolutely not,” Greene said. “I think most would agree that it is not as intimidating, or expensive, or threatening to deal with things informally through our educational process as opposed to a certain officer handcuffing a student and going through the court system.”