Public Safety, SGA discuss new policy and practices

By Erica Quinones  

Questions regarding safety policies concerning alcohol, patrols, and searches on campus arose as the semester saw its first policy enforcements.

According to Student Government Association President and senior Kat DeSantis, concerns regarding safety policies arose when students and student groups reported that Public Safety officers interrupted student gatherings without much cause.

According to an email to Student Affairs from SGA, students also had concerns regarding Public Safety officers searching through their personal belongings and scanning the IDs of students who were not drinking.

Part of this uncertainty arises from students’ lack of knowledge regarding internal policies not included in the Student Handbook and confusion over the handbook itself, which was not yet updated for the current academic year. 

Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm said the Student Handbook was meant to be updated over the summer, but the issue was postponed due to staff overturns and coordinating new information.

Regarding alcohol policies within the Student Handbook, there are clear rules against any student under the age of 21 consuming alcohol, providing an underaged student with alcohol, drinking in public, or participating in drinking games. But there is nuance in enforcement of rules. 

According to Dr. Feyerherm, the College has internal policies regarding topics such as alcohol policy enforcement. These policies’ intention is to help officers and residential life staff enforce rules consistently. 

When enforcing policies, the College cannot avoid federal guidance regarding alcohol and drug usage, and they cannot avoid the “moral obligation to make sure we’ve got an environment where students can be safe,” according to Feyerherm. But they also recognize that underaged drinking occurs on campus, and students need a space for personal development in which they can learn how to drink safely in a way consistent with their own values — if they choose.

“It’s an interesting developmental time, so we want to support students developing how they can do it safely, but at the same time, we’re obligated by all sorts of reasons to not allow it,” Dr. Feyerherm said. 

Public Safety and Residential Life may focus on situations where the risk is higher, such as larger parties where alcohol is available unabated to anyone, regardless of their age. 

So, if a student was to have a small gathering with a few people and little noise, it is likely no one will show up and question the ongoings. 

However, even with this internal value, DeSantis said students were concerned that Public Safety was not only intervening in gatherings which grew too large or too loud, nor in emergency situations such as cases of alcohol poisoning.

Part of that concern regards current Public Safety practices which allows officers making more frequent walkthroughs in residential halls on weekends.

Director of Public Safety Pamela Hoffman said the walkthroughs, which see officers traversing two or three residential halls a night, were not conducted with the intent of looking for every potential violation. Rather, they are only checking residential halls more frequently on weekends, making a more conscious effort towards safety than previous free-flowing approaches. 

Other points of student concern regarded not only internal policy but their rights as students during interactions with Public Safety officers. 

Another internal policy that concerned students was the scanning of all student IDs in cases of underaged drinking, whether or not the student was drinking themself. 

According to Dr. Feyerherm, if an officer enters a room or lounge where there is alcohol present, it is normal to request ID from everyone in the room.

Hoffman said the ID scanning policy helps identify everyone who was present at a gathering.

Part of the importance of identifying everyone present is for follow-up conversations if needed, according to Dr. Feyerherm. Collecting ID information does not mean the student whose ID was inspected will be in trouble.

“It’s really a way of documenting what happened, and it does allow us to have a better understanding of what was going on,” Dr. Feyerherm said.

Hoffman also said that ID collection may occur because it is difficult to sort out who has been drinking in an alcohol incident. Because of this difficulty, it is not Public Safety’s job to sort out who was drinking instantly but to address the immediate concerns of the incident, which may include collecting such information.

Hoffman said there is an unapproved policy in the works that may help alleviate student concerns around being misidentified as an underaged drinker. Primarily, they are working on a breathalyzer policy. If approved, it would allow underaged students to take a breathalyzer test to prove they were not drinking.

Being the policy enforcers of the institution can make Public Safety’s actions seem unfair or as if they are taking away the fun of the students, according to Hoffman. So, they are searching for ways to enforce policies while ensuring students understand their job is to keep them safe.

However, part of student concerns is not only what the policies are but what their rights during an enforcement process are, according to DeSantis, especially concerning Public Safety officers entering dorms and searching personal belongings. 

According to a Sept. 20 email from Interim Dean of Students Greg Krikorian, Public Safety may enter students’ rooms if they “believe a violation of College policy is present,” or if they believe there is a health or safety risk.

Illegal items may be confiscated, according to the email.

“People just don’t know … am I allowed to say yes [when Public Safety wants to check my belongings], am I allowed to say no,” DeSantis said.

Part of alleviating these student concerns includes answering frequently asked questions, updating the website to give students places to find necessary information, and educating students on internal policies, so they can make more responsible decisions, according to DeSantis.

“Once we have the information, we know the rules, we know the parameters of the rules, and we have the relationship with Public Safety, we’re inclined to make more responsible and better decisions that are in the interest of safety and are in the best interest of preserving our community,” DeSantis said.

Dr. Feyerherm said there “is likely some room for a little bit more of that detail that’s in the internal protocols to exist in the policies … or there’s some education that can happen within the residence halls.” 

But another part of the problem, according to DeSantis, is that there is not “full trust” between Public Safety and students yet. 

“Students and PS have had a rocky relationship the past few years, and as we implement more harsh strategies and policies without building the relationship first, I fear that there’s going to be a lot of retaliation and a lot of disdain for PS,” DeSantis said. 

DeSantis and Hoffman both said they both want to strengthen the relationship between Public Safety and students.

According to Hoffman, this strengthening can arise through day-to-day experiences between Public Safety and students, be it officers and students having conversations together, seeing officers at sporting events, or sharing meals with officers in Hodson Dining Hall.

Hoffman said that her officers are friendly people, and that she has learned about them and is proud to call them her officers. She wants students to share that attitude and to be glad they got to know them.

DeSantis said she believes having more visibility of Public Safety officers in spaces such as sporting events and creating kind interactions between officers and students are key to strengthening the relationship between them.

“We have to build a relationship and a foundation that is positive, so that…we can trust issues will be dealt with potentially and respectfully and with the students’ safety and best interest in mind,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that students can bring concerns to SGA representatives, be they on the executive board, in the class officers, or amongst the senators.

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