Before this year, most Grinnellians hadn’t heard of the Mid Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force (MINE), a federally funded, multi-county operation. From September to May, the task force arrested 13 Grinnell students for marijuana related offenses.
“Some of [the increase] has to do with the individuals that were initially busted by the police department and just the overall interaction with the drug task force and Grinnell College,” said David Menninga, a Grinnell Police Department investigator who joined MINE last August. “We really just act on information that we gather…information from sources that have purchased from the campus.”
Task Force personnel alarmed students with their new practice of entering dorms without a Campus Safety and Security escort. Administrators at the College met with Interim Police Chief Theresa Petersen last month to express their concerns about police entering dorms without Campus Security present.
“[The College has] been working under the philosophy and the understanding that anytime Police are in the residence halls, they are going to have an escort of Campus Safety and Security. That’s who our students know,” Dean of Students Travis Greene said. “There have been one or two instances that I’m aware of where that hasn’t been the case. My understanding is that it’s been undercover drug narcotics agents who, because they didn’t want to interfere with a lead, didn’t let us know until after the fact.”
According to Greene, the College has made no effort to increase police presence on campus. In April, administrators attempted to stop MINE from coming onto campus without the administration’s knowledge.
“[Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty], [Director of Security Stephen Briscoe] met with [Interim Police Chief Theresa Petersen] to express our concerns and our hope to be able to collaborate so that at a minimum we would know that they are even coming onto the campus,” Greene said.
They could not reach an agreement because MINE did not want to risk compromising its investigations.
“That’s just the nature of a drug task force,” Briscoe said.
One of these incidents involved task force members searching a student’s room after following the student in the dorm hallway, looking through the open door and seeing a bong, according to the student, who requested anonymity for legal reasons. The student finds the role security played troubling.
“[During the search] the security guard came in and he’s like, ‘Oh we heard there was a situation down here but it looks like you have it under control and I don’t want to be in your way so I’ll just get out of here.’ Probably wasn’t in my room for more than 30 seconds,” the student said. “And I was like, you’re supposed to be here to watch out for me. You’re not on their side. You’re Campus Security. You know, where’s my [RLC]?”
After completing a search of the room and finding both paraphernalia and marijuana, the officers asked for its source.
“They were like, ‘Where’d you get the weed?’” the student said. “But I wasn’t going to go down that road.”
Menninga, of MINE, uses two main methods for accessing dorms without a warrant or notifying Campus Security.
“I’ve entered dorms by student and by doors being propped open or unlocked. I haven’t obviously broken into a dorm,” Menninga said.
While students may find Menninga’s presence invasive, it is entirely legal as long as he enters by the one of the aforementioned mechanisms because dorm halls qualify as “common areas,” which according to Law.com consist of “the areas not owned by an individual owner of the condominium or cooperative residence, but shared by all owners, either by percentage interest or owned by the management organization.”
“A warrantless entry [to a common area] is valid when based upon the consent of a third party whom the police, at the time of the entry, reasonably believe to possess common authority over the premises,” ruled the US Supreme Court in Illinois v. Rodriguez (1990). A student opening the door to the dorm fits this description.
MINE’s exercise of its legal muscle has changed the attitude on campus concerning marijuana.
“Everybody is so paranoid right now. Everybody’s just so worried about their futures,” said the investigated student. “Everybody is just so anxious.”
Rumors about who the informants are have begun circulating.
“[People say] I think this person is [an informant], that can ruin someone’s social life at school,” the student said.
The law of common area entrance allows students some protective agency.
“It’s [students’] responsibility to make sure they don’t prop doors or they don’t let people into the Residence Halls who clearly don’t belong,” Greene said.
Dougharty remains optimistic about the future of the College’s relationship with Grinnell Police Department, especially because of the attitude of Dennis Reilly, who will take over full-time as Grinnell Chief of Police in June.
“Our sense was, and Steve [Briscoe] spent time with him during the interview process as did [incoming VPSA Sivan Philo ’13] that he is very, very interested in continuing a collaborative relationship with the college and a cooperative one,” Dougharty said.
Ultimately, for Dougharty, it comes down to one simple rule.
“Don’t let anybody in you don’t know,” he said.