Campus reacts to observations of increased WPD presence


Thursday, March 28, Student Assembly President Sydney Thayer ’24 sent an email to the student body in response to observations about increased police presence in Williamsburg. Community members believe this shift is an attempt to restrict underage drinking, particularly on the last day of classes, but the Williamsburg Police Department says they have not changed any policies.  

“Based on the information we have gathered in our conversations with administrators, we believe that the increased presence of the Williamsburg Police Department is due to their concerns regarding the last day of classes,” Thayer wrote. “Our conversations have indicated that WPD is increasing proactive contacts/intervention in an effort to address concerns about student behavior on the last day of classes.”

The email encouraged students to familiarize themselves with Williamsburg’s noise ordinances in response to “heightened attention around that issue,” as stated in the email. 

However, Wednesday, April 3, WPD Chief of Police Sean Dunn told The Flat Hat that there have been no policy changes regarding the regulation of students. He reminded students that the police are expected and obliged to enforce the law.

“When people, students or not, break the law, there will be consequences,” Dunn wrote in an email. “Our concern is always safety. Thinking ahead to Last Day of Classes (LDOC), we would like the students to be mindful of laws regarding underage drinking, alcohol possession, and noise. In recent years, WPD has had to shut down streets, suspend train service, and even divert medical response from local hospitals because of LDOC-related safety concerns. Please be responsible in your celebrations and mindful of our larger community, and, most importantly, protect yourself.”

Still, community members across campus have been reacting to what they perceive as a greater police presence.

Friday, March 22, Panhellenic Council President Kay Carter ’25 also sent out an email to all members of the 10 on-campus sorority chapters, warning members that the WPD was cracking down on underage drinking.

“They are driving around and will be driving around during times like Saturday morning, the last day of classes, and at night on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, among other times,” the email read. “You get my drift. What this means for you is that the WILLIAMSBURG POLICE (not WMPD) will stop you if you are visibly intoxicated or have alcohol on your person and may stop you or ID you. If you cannot provide proper (real) identification and proof that you are 21+, you will be arrested.”

Carter reminded sorority members in the email of PUBS, or signs of alcohol overdose, which include puking, unresponsiveness, breathing irregularities and skin turning blue. She added that if a student who has been drinking underage seeks medical attention for either themselves or someone else, they will not be arrested but will probably be care-concerned. 

In an email to The Flat Hat, Carter shared her plans to address the increased police presence around campus.

Currently, I am trying to find ways to work with other campus leaders in order to find ways to educate students on what is going on, what they can do and how they can be safer,” Carter wrote.

Carter plans to meet with the College of William and Mary Chief of Police and Interim AVP for Public Safety Don Butler soon. 

Thayer also reminded students of their rights as outlined in the Student’s Rights Initiative Resource Guide. These include that students may refuse a search by a police officer of themselves, their belongings and car. Police may only conduct a pat-down to search for weapons. Students have the right to remain silent and should verbally express their desire to do so if appropriate. They should also produce proper identification and documentation if prompted. 

In an email to The Flat Hat, Thayer elaborated on why the police are now increasing their presence. 

“Concerns regarding the last day of classes is in reference to the high risk activities that frequently take place on LDOC,” the email read. “The police have indicated concerns about the number of intoxicated students and pedestrian traffic collisions.”

Thayer also wrote that SA has received indications of an increased number of students receiving noise ordinance citations the weekend of March 22 to 24 than on previous weekends. SA plans to work on improving the relationship between students and the WPD. 

Students across campus have expressed frustration with this perceived increase in surveillance. During the weekend of March 23, students took to the popular social media app Yik Yak to complain, joke and warn others about concerns of WPD restricting social events and stopping students. 

“POV you were walking home last night and slightly stumbled,” reads one post with over 1,500 upvotes and a meme photo of a police officer jumping aggressively toward the screen.

Grace Petronzio ’25 did not notice additional police around campus until she received the email from Carter. She does not believe the police should increase their presence. 

“I think it’s just kind of the age-old thing with teenagers where if you tell them not to do something, they’re going to do it, it’s just going to be in unsafer ways,” Petronzio said. “I think the police really cracking down on things like that makes me worry that if people hear they’re going to be breathalyzed on the street it makes me nervous that people are going to get into cars with drunk drivers, and that’s an infinitely worse problem in my opinion.”

Petronzio worried about what the increased police presence means for the relationship between students and the Williamsburg community as someone who lives off campus.

“The relationship between the student community and the greater Williamsburg community is already pretty bad in terms of rentals and housing and how hard it is to get housing and how resistant a lot of the greater community is to students living here,” Petronzio said. “And I think an increased police presence is just going to make that relationship between college and community even worse.”

In response to their stricter patrolling, Petronzio believes students will be more reluctant to seek assistance from the police when they need help. She does not view their increased presence as the most effective means of enacting change and fears it will make things worse. 

“I think there is underage drinking here, definitely,” Petronzio said. “But to a problematic extent, I would disagree with, it’s just a normal part of college culture. And compared to some of my friends at other schools William and Mary is quite tame. So I get that obviously the police want everyone to be safe and don’t want underage drinking because it is against the law. But I don’t think this is the way to solve that problem. Nor do I think that William and Mary has an excessive problem with that. I think it’s a pretty moderate school as far as partying and drinking goes.”                                                                                        


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