George Mason Law School

Students question police

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September 25, 2007

3:32 PM

__SA senators ask College to
explain police ‘escalation,’ Challis says tactics justified__

p. At tonight’s Student Assembly meeting, senate representatives will vote on a bill proposed by Sens. Matt Skibiak ’08 and Orlando Watson ’10 that addresses what they call “the recent escalation” of the College’s police presence at social functions. The bill, if approved, would express “deep disapproval of the WMPD’s [William and Mary Police Department] use of intimidation tactics” and demand that the College explain the logic of such policies.

p. “This bill is really to create an environment where people can rely on the police if they have to,” Skibiak said. “I don’t want people to fear the police, especially after Virginia Tech.”

p. College Police Chief Don Challis denied that there had been an escalation in police enforcement on campus, saying instead that there had been an increase in social activity this semester. “The students have just been more social this year,” Challis said. He also said that he thought more students had been taken to the hospital for alcohol use than at this time last year.

p. Vice President for Administration Anna Martin, who receives Campus Police reports and works closely with the department, said she also disagreed with this assertion.

p. “The beginning of the year is always like this,” she said. “People forget what it was like the year before.”

p. According to statistics available on the College’s police department website, arrests for liquor law violations on public property in the City of Williamsburg have increased each year from 2001 to 2005, and student judicial referrals relating to on-campus alcohol incidents have increased by 76 percent during that same time period. Crime statistics for 2006 have not yet been made available. However, since 1997, alcohol-related arrests dropped from 77 to six in 2005.

p. The College and the Williamsburg Police Department made 112 liquor law violation arrests in 2005, both on campus and in the city, while James Madison University, a school with nearly three times the undergraduate enrollment of the College, registered only 77 arrests in the same year. In terms of judicial referrals, the College recorded 308 incidents in 2005, while JMU reported 503 and Virginia Tech logged 563. Virginia Tech’s undergraduate enrollment is nearly four times that of the College. Martin said that it was difficult for her to comment on these figures without knowing the exact policies at Virginia Tech and JMU.

p. SA Senator Caroline Mullis ’09, who began researching these figures last spring, said that these similarities, given the large discrepancies in enrollment, were “ridiculous.” She also said that the rising number of incidents on a yearly basis were quite easy to see. “Things have definitely gotten worse during my time here,” she said.

p. Challis said that there is often a difference in how each institution defines and reports crimes. For example, he said that one school might record an entire group of people as a single incident, while another might report individual citations.
These efforts of the SA are part of a larger outcry on campus against what many students perceive to be a noticeable surge of police presence. SA President Zach Pilchen ’09 said that the goal was to have the police define and clarify what their role is on campus.

p. “Are they just going to be the RAs with guns?” he said. “For the sake of students, they need to change their operating procedure.”
Skibiak said that a major flaw in the College’s alcohol policy is that it ultimately encourages students to venture off campus to find alternative social outlets.

p. “Students either drive back drunk, or they walk down darker side roads to avoid police,” Skibiak said. The bill also questions the cooperation between the College’s police department and the Williamsburg Police Department, both on and off campus.

p. “I find it disheartening that you can have [the two forces] working on campus,” Skibiak said, adding that the whole idea of having a university-based police force was to save students from dealing with deferral law enforcement.

p. Many students view the city’s police department as being less student friendly and quicker to break up parties, issue citations and make arrests. Several off-campus parties, sometimes hosted by Greek organizations, are often disrupted without a warning or a noise complaint from a resident.

p. On Sept. 7, Delta Phi’s “Highlighter” dance party was shut down when a Williamsburg police officer, making a routine traffic stop nearby, heard the music and responded. Delta Phi brother Billy Mutell ’09 said that a Campus Police officer then entered the party — a dry, College-sanctioned event — and claimed that he smelled alcohol. The party was promptly broken up.

p. Challis, however, stressed that cooperation between the Williamsburg Police Department and the College’s police force was essential. “We go off-campus all the time to assist the city,” he said. “And they would go on campus if we called them. I think if [the Williamsburg police] had a way to draw students into the judicial process, that would be a good thing. But they don’t.”

p. Challis said that since the enactment of the temporary Alcohol Task Force after a reported rape incident at a fraternity complex in 2003, social patterns have changed on campus. “There’s been a huge decline in registered parties,” he said. “The events have been going off campus or underground.”

p. Over the past four years, sexual assault incidents have also increased, although Challis said this was because people felt more comfortable reporting incidents.

p. In addition to authoring the bill, Skibiak has started “Green and Gold Social Policy Reform: These Colors Don’t Run,” a Facebook group advocating changes to the College’s alcohol policy and the police force’s approach to enforcement.

p. Challis said that while he had sat down with Watson and Skibiak to discuss these matters, he believes that the Campus Police’s actions are being misinterpreted. “We just can’t turn a blind eye and let things happen,” he said.

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