Campus drug arrests rise

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

Over the last three years, drug-related arrests by the Oswego State University Police have nearly doubled from the previous three-year total. From 2010-2012, U.P. reported a total of 322 drug-related arrests, up from 170 total from 2007-2009, according to reports from U.P. and the Office of Postsecondary Education.

The amount of drug-related arrests increased dramatically in 2010, jumping to 109 total from the 63 drug-related arrests that occurred in 2009. The increase carried over into 2011, when 104 drug-related arrests were recorded, according to reports from the Office of Postsecondary Education. According to U.P., drug-related arrests have increased to 130 in 2012.

The term “drug-related arrests” refers to arrests related to the violation of laws prohibiting the production, distribution and/or use of a controlled substance. U.P. Assistant Chief John Rossi said that a strong majority of the arrests are related to marijuana.

Rossi said that the increase in arrests has not been due to any stricter enforcement policies, but is a result of several factors, including increased support from Residence Life and Housing employees.

“We have been getting calls from residence hall staff, and they have increased their training, so they have increased their calls to us,” Rossi said.

Resident assistants, resident mentors, graduate resident mentors and hall directors are trained on techniques to identify potential drug use in residence halls and are obligated to report all instances to the police.

“As RAs, University Police expects us to be an extra set of eyes, ears and noses and stay vigilant in regards to drugs in our residence halls,” said Gillian Kuhlman, a junior broadcasting major and first-year RA in Oneida Hall.

Assistant Vice President of Residence Life and Housing Richard Kolenda said that the residence hall staff is able to identify marijuana more often than other drugs due to its scent.

“If a staff member believes there is marijuana being smoked in the building, they get a second source to confirm and then the police are notified,” Kolenda said.

Kolenda said that there is usually an increase in the amount of drug use in residence halls during the winter months.

“If the weather is nice they will take their marijuana and smoke it outside,” Kolenda said. “But if it is too cold outside, then they try to mask it on the inside and they fall prey to being caught.”

Kolenda added that there is no warning system for residents believed to be using drugs in the dorms, as all residence hall employees are obligated to report any instance where they suspect drugs are being used.

RAs, RMs, GRMs and hall directors are often forced to walk a line between enforcing the school’s drug policy while also trying to maintain personal relationships with their residents.

“As RAs, we need to know the boundaries of when it is OK to accuse residents of drug use or possession without crossing a line and losing their trust,” said Kuhlman, who said she hasn’t had any run-ins related to drug use with her own residents, but has seen several instances where U.P. have become involved while working on call.

Ted Winkworth, the alcohol and other drugs program coordinator for the Oswego State Lifestyles Center, said that, for marijuana, he instructs residence hall employees to look more for people who may be dealing the drug than casual users.

“What I tell them is, if you see it, follow up with it,” Winkworth said. “If you suspect that someone has got some high volume stuff, get the police involved. But try not to alienate your residents if they just smell weird, or like they might be high, or they’re acting weird.”

“It’s a hard topic,” Kuhlman said. “We know at a certain point, there is a minuscule amount of options that we have in preventing the residents from doing and possessing drugs.”

Oswego State also had more reported arrests than most of its similarly sized SUNY counterparts. According to reports from the Office of Postsecondary Education, the College at Brockport had 80 drug-related arrests in 2011, SUNY Cortland had 39, SUNY Plattsburgh had 22 and SUNY Geneseo had 26, compared to Oswego State’s 104.

Rossi said he does not believe drug use is especially a problem on Oswego State’s campus.

“I think it is more of a societal problem than just this campus,” Rossi said. “We are a mirror of society, so what happens outside campus correlates onto it.”

Winkworth said that he has not noticed an increase of drug use on campus and would attribute the increase more to changes in arrest policy.

“They really go back and forth and it depends on the attitude of the semester,” Winkworth said of the enforcement of marijuana on campus. “I know that there have been semesters where people have been smoking weed, and cops have been like, ‘I don’t have time for this, we’re not going to make a big deal out of this,’ and sometimes it gets out of control and they say, ‘Okay, we’ve got make more arrests.’”

U.P. acknowledged an increase in drug-related arrests in their 2011 annual safety report. The higher arrest total was also attributed at that time to the increase in calls from residence halls, but also cited an increase in foot patrols along the lakeshore.

Rossi said that the department has been able to utilize more patrols due to an increase in the size of the department’s staff from past years.

As reported in The Oswegonian in October 2011, U.P. was left short-staffed when four officers retired from the department in the fall of 2010. University Police Chief Cynthia Adam said at the time that the retirements were not expected by the department, occurring as a result of an early-retirement incentive offered by the governor’s office. The unexpected retirements forced the department to change from the regular eight-hour to 12-hour shifts and officers worked overtime for several months.

U.P. has since hired three new officers, according to their 2011 report.

“We are up to full staff with our officers, so they are out there more than they had been in the past when we were at lower staff,” Rossi said.

Along with enforcement, U.P., Residence Life and Housing and The Lifestyles Center work in tandem to educate students on the value of staying drug-free.

RAs go through a separate training session with Winkworth following their training with the police. In the session, the RAs are trained on how to deal with residents who they feel may be in danger of abusing alcohol or drugs.

Winkworth said that, given that people who are addicted to marijuana don’t exhibit the more extreme symptoms of those addicted to heavier drugs, people who may be addicted to marijuana are less likely to seek help.

“Typically people who are addicted to marijuana get some irritability and high anxiety when they’re not smoking; or they’re not getting their work done because they’re too busy getting stoned and playing video games,” Winkworth said. “They don’t typically acknowledge that, but I want to make sure people at least know where I hangout and that they do have a resource on campus if they need counseling.”

RAs also host several programs or events in the residence halls that are meant to instruct their residents on a variety of subjects. According to Kolenda, the goal of each program is to foster learning in three separate outcomes: interpersonal competence, interpersonal skill and civic responsibility.

Kolenda said that many of these programs touch on alcohol and other drug prevention.

“We try to approach it from an educational point of view and hope students understand where we are coming from and, one day, they can realize what impact they have on themselves,” Kolenda said.

Kolenda said that the programs are usually not well attended by students, but he believes the messages are still heard by a large portion of the campus.

“There’s multiple programs and hopefully we will expose a number of students to each program and the facts that go along with it, and they can share those facts with their friends,” Kolenda said.

Winkworth said that, while the Lifestyles Center does provide educational information on the consequences of marijuana use, most programs aren’t necessarily focused toward preventing its use and instead focus on alcohol and other more harmful drugs.

“If I’m going to do an education program, I’m more interested in people not overdosing on alcohol and not getting involved in really nasty drugs, because what’s the worst that’s going to happen if someone smokes some weed,” Winkworth said. “We’re not really prohibitionist, we’re not ‘all drugs are bad,’ we look at the harms caused by a specific substance then we really zero in on it from there. I think that being the case, alcohol is still the number one harm and we go after that the heaviest.”

Kuhlman said she tries to make sure all her residents understand the school’s drug policy and informs them of places they can go for help if they are struggling with substance abuse.

“The best thing I can do for my residents, involving drugs, is to make sure they know the consequences of their actions,” Kuhlman said.

Rossi said that most of the arrests for marijuana that they make are “minor offenses” and officers will at times practice discretion and refer students caught possessing or using marijuana to judicial instead of making an arrest.

Lisa Evaneski, the Assistant Dean of Judicial Affairs at Oswego State, said that there has been an increase in marijuana violations that have come through the judicial system as well.

According to Evaneski, judicial responses to drug violations vary on a case-to-case basis, depending on the severity of the incident and the judicial history of the student.

“If a student has no history and is involved in a minor violation, we tend to start them off with a warning or probation and an educational assignment that is designed to be both preventative and informational,” Evaneski said in an email. “If the student has priors, then the sanctions will be progressively more serious.”

Opinion around campus is generally split on whether increasing the amount of arrests will prevent students from using marijuana on campus.

“Students do think twice, but sometimes they just make bad choices,” Kolenda said. “Sometimes, at this point in their lives, students may not view the consequences as significant enough.”

Winkworth said that the enforcement of marijuana might sometimes have detrimental effects on the school as well.

“I think it jams up the judicial system, and, I think, jams up police work, and I’d rather see less people get arrested for it because I think it’s just a waste of time to write somebody up,” Winkworth said. “But I also understand that you have to crack down on it, because if people see that they can get away with it, then that kind of pushes the envelope a little bit more.”

Winkworth said that staff from The Lifestyles Center, U.P., Judicial Affairs and Residence Life and Housing all sit on an alcohol and other drug prevention committee and usually meet every few weeks to consult with each other on ways to better enforce the campus drug policy.

“We know that there’s stuff out there. There’s people smoking weed right now,” Winkworth said. “. . . We try to stop that the best we can, we try to keep our eye on it. If stuff seems to flare up, like bath salts, then we will really stick on it. We try to at least keep open communication to make sure that we know what each other are up to.”

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