Dennis* ’10 has noticed a change in Public Safety policy since he arrived at Princeton. “I think it’s become worse,” he said. “It feels like they’re really out to get us.” Public Safety maintains that this is not true, but many students remain skeptical. The relationship between Public Safety officer and student is inherently complicated, as it is Public Safety’s job to both protect the student body, and enforce the rules of the institution upon it. While many students find the execution of University policy aggravating, they also understand that it is Public Safety’s job to keep the campus as safe as possible. However, recently there have been incidents where students feel Public Safety has intervened before it was necessary.
Public Safety is indeed tightening its policies in order to keep students from drinking too heavily in their dorm rooms, and while most students can appreciate efforts to reduce binge drinking, parts of the student body find the new policies excessive. Talk last year about Public Safety officers seeking the right to carry guns on the job alarmed many students who felt that the desire to bear arms, even if it was not malicious in intent, confirmed suspicions that the campus force was becoming unduly aggressive. These students believe that Public Safety–or at least, some individuals within Public Safety–have a more power-hungry edge than they did only a few years ago.
Public Safety has recently taken new steps to reduce the amount of binge drinking that occurs on campus. In addition to the new patrol policies, the force works closely with the Alcohol Coalition Committee at Princeton, which is made up of students, faculty and staff. Residential Hallway Patrol, or RHP, as Public Safety officers call it, requires that officers patrol the hallways of residential buildings during busy nights in order to find parties that appear to be out of control. The ACC is currently gathering data to enable the administration to take new steps in the ongoing effort to curb binge drinking and other alcohol-related problems on the Princeton campus. The final report will be released in May 2008.
Binge drinking is of course a serious problem across the country, but the ACC has found that when it comes to unhealthy attitudes towards drinking, there are many factors that are uniquely Princetonian. “Precisely because students invest themselves so much in their studies, they admit to having relatively little time to socialize. Frequently, as a result, they seek to make the social time—and their consumption of alcohol—all the more intense.” This finds easy confirmation in day-to-day campus life. A sophomore girl who asked to remain anonymous told me that when she finishes her work for the day, especially on the weekends, she feels she must fit in all the drinking she can between 11 pm and 2 or 3 in the morning, since she won’t get another chance to go out for a while. The ACC also noted that at a place like Princeton, where affiliations and social circles are a deeply ingrained part of campus life, students may feel increased pressure to engage in unhealthy amounts of drinking either to fit in, or to feel more comfortable in their surroundings. This too can be verified without much effort. A freshman girl I spoke to, who is hoping to get into one of the three sororities on campus, admitted that she feels more at ease socializing at night when she is drunk.
Most students would agree that the administration and Public Safety should be taking all measures necessary to keep its students as safe as possible at all times. However, is this how the student body perceives new efforts from Public Safety to monitor student activity on campus?
Victoria Jueds, the Assistant Dean of Undergraduates, said when asked about the Public Safety/student relationship, “I recognize that some students may question Public Safety’s intervention in certain situations, but as I have every confidence in the good will and professionalism of our officers, I trust that it will ultimately be apparent to students that they are motived by concern for students’ safety and well-being.”
Mark* is a junior at Princeton who said he understands that Public Safety needs to do its job in order to keep all students safe. He said that that there are many individuals on the force who are quite nice and apologetic about having to do their job. “The people that I’ve met [who break up the parties] say things like ‘This is just something we have to write you up for—sorry,’” he said.
Public Safety officer Eddie* has worked at Princeton for many years. He believes that the new policies have been effective, noting that the very presence of Public Safety officers in hallways makes students think twice before “drinking that beer or smoking that pot.” University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt adds that “the increased presence of Public Safety is a resource and it helps encourage students to [engage in] responsible behavior.” This presence has not escaped the student eye; some appreciate the new measures while others find it “Big Brother-like,” as one student referred to it.
Dave*, a student in the Undergraduate Student Government said, “There is definitely sentiment that Public Safety is taking a considerably more active stance than it did when many upperclassmen started here.” When asked how he thinks students are reacting to the new approach to hallway patrol, his response was blunt: “It’s not popular.”
Dennis told me that he feels parties are broken up more quickly than they used to be. He said that he noticed a change starting last year. He began to feel then, as he does now, that Public Safety officers were grasping for excuses to get into his room even when there were no noise complaints or any other causes for concern. “Instead of focusing on keeping the members of the campus safe, [Public Safety seems intent on] getting the members of the campus in trouble…and splitting hairs over things that aren’t really dangerous,” he said. “It feels like they’re here to enforce rules that aren’t necessarily that important.”
Dave said of the relationship between student and Public Safety officer, “Students here are not dumb. You don’t send 4-5 guys walking around a campus to patrol over 35 residential buildings, 100-some-odd hallways, and 5000 kids with the serious intention of ‘making sure that we’re available in case someone needs help.’” When asked whether he feels Public Safety ever oversteps its boundaries, he answered, “Unfortunately, yes.” He was frustrated that Public Safety claims to break up parties because of noise complaints, noting that, “While I would not, without evidence, accuse anyone of stretching the truth, I find it hard to believe that noise complaints are being called in between 10-12 on Saturday nights.” He said that he cannot imagine most students calling in noise complaints before asking his or her neighbor to turn down the music.
Public Safety officers do not have the right to enter student residences without probable cause. Public Safety may knock on the door of a residence, and ultimately enter and investigate, if a noise complaint has been filed. If a person leaves a room with alcohol in hand, Public Safety may enter the room (after knocking). These two policies are laid out in Princeton’s Rights, Rules and Responsibilies. However, Charles Davall, Jr., Deputy Director of Public Safety, said that if Public Safety officers hear excessive noise coming from dormitories, they will take action even if a noise complaint has not been filed. This policy is not explicitly provided for in Princeton’s Rights, Rules and Responsibilities unless Public Safety officers have assumed a loophole allowing them to file their own noise complaints. Cliatt explained that the presence of Public Safety officers in residential halls is not new, just improved. She said one benefit of the restructuring was relieving students of the burden of policing themselves. “[Public Safety officers] will respond to the same incidents that they’ve responded to in the past,” she said. “The fact that they’re there before the neighbor calls doesn’t change the fact that they would have responded anyway.” Within the past month, 85 noise complaints in dormitories have been filed; the number of how many parties have been broken up is much harder to ascertain.
Steven J. Healy, the Director of Public Safety, insisted that no officers are looking to get students in trouble just for the sake of getting them in trouble. “We’re not out trying to find violations of the alcohol policy. We’re not. We’re trying to intervene in dangerous or potentially dangerous situations.” He added, “We have been more pro-active around trying to intervene in high-risk drinking situations. Clearly we have been. And I don’t see that as a bad thing.” He understands that stricter policies are likely to frustrate students, but he would rather a student feel bothered by Public Safety for breaking up a party than have to make a call to her parents telling them that their daughter is dead.
While Mark was understanding about Public Safety’s responsibilities to keep the campus safe, he also felt that certain officers had treated him unfairly in the past. He recounted a story where, according to him, Public Safety overstepped its boundaries. He was carrying a “non-descript” bag that was full of beers when two Public Safety officers approached him and asked him what was in the bag. When he said garbage, they took the bag from him and searched it. They found beers in the bag, told Mark’s Dean, and Mark ended up with eighteen months of behavioral probation and fifty hours of campus service. “In that case I thought that the seizure was not warranted,” Mark said. “I tried to appeal it and the Dean said that because they’re a private force they’re allowed to do what they want.”
Healy was unfamiliar with the story and said that he found it hard to believe that any of his officers would react in such a way with a Princeton student. “We follow the general expectations of search and seizure, so I can’t imagine any of my officers doing that,” he said. He also added that Public Safety officers are constantly learning from and modifying their behavior, retraining themselves after learning from their mistakes, making it clear that Public Safety “has a pretty strong policy about investigating complaints.”
Dave voiced concern over “party break-up” procedure: When Public Safety officers break up a party, they require the student whose room it is to speak to them in private, even if the student does not fully understand his or her rights. He believes that this type of behavior further exacerbates the relationship between Public Safety officers and students. In response to this, Davall explained that students are not actually under arrest when parties are broken up–they are written up for violations. Davall also pointed out that Princeton’s Rights, Rules and Responsibilities “actually compels students to be cooperative with Public Safety.” Mike Jaffe, a lawyer who works right outside Princeton campus and has been practicing for twenty years, noted that students at Princeton often forget that they always have a right to a lawyer if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
Despite appearances, it is not clear that the number of students getting in trouble is actually increasing. Jaffe has not seen a change in the number or makeup of clients over the past years. His observation is confirmed by Dean Jueds who has said that she has not noticed any trends over the past year in terms of who or how many students come to her office with Public Safety-related issues.
Chatter about maltreatment on the part of Public Safety reached a crescendo last year following the force’s petition to carry guns with them on the job. The Fraternal Orders of Police, the labor union that represents campus police officers, looked to arm fifteen of the members of the force. The FOP President and Public Safety patrolman, Jim Lanzi, said at the time that these members “are not given the tools to do their job.” After informally looking into the matter, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration deemed it unnecessary for Public Safety officers to carry loaded weapons. The University did not support the idea of Public Safety carrying weapons on the job. Healy noted that the desire to carry guns was not his own, nor was it the desire of the entire Department of Public Safety.
The gun issue did not end with the OSHA rebuttal. Mounting worries gave way to “gun rumors”, some tame, some obviously wild: I recently overheard three students creating a false scenario during which Public Safety officers show up at their dorm-room and begin shooting cups of beer. Yet even these casual jokes are revelatory–underscoring the absurd tales is a palpable and deepening concern.
Officer Eddie said that he himself does not feel that guns are necessary at a University like Princeton. As he sees it, there is a certain amount of power that having a gun gives a person, and this power could possibly impair a person’s judgment in certain situations. Officer Eddie observed that it seems to be the younger officers who feel the need to carry weapons; many of the officers who have been working with Public Safety for awhile are more willing to defer to the University on these types of issues. He does not feel however that this issue has created any real divide among members of the force.
Officer Lewis* has also worked with Public Safety for many years and supported the the initiative to arm Public Safety officers. He was disappointed when the University did not allow the officers to do so. He feels that as Police Academy trained officers, every member of Public Safety knows when an officer should or should not use a gun. By not being armed, Public Safety is too reliant on outside police forces to handle situations on campus that would require immediate action with a gun, such as a stranger approaching a student on campus with a knife–a scenario that he feels is possible on Princeton campus. Officer Lewis declined to speak for Security officers on campus, but is confident that within the Public Safety department that patrols the campus, most officers desire the right to carry guns on campus. Other members of Public Safety declined to comment on the matter.
Officer Eddie believes that if Public Safety were to carry guns on the job, it would instill more fear in the students than necessary. When asked how he thought students would react to officers being armed, Officer Lewis responded, “I have no idea.” Asking random groups of students on campus whether they would feel less or more safe if Public Safety officers carried guns, the majority of the answers were “less safe.” Some students were specifically worried that Public Safety officers had sought out this right last year. For them, the possession of weapons and the desire to posses weapons gives the officers an intimidating image–one that is not conducive to Princeton’s atmosphere.
The University understands that this is a common position among students–in fact, it is one of the major reasons that it did not allow Public Safety officers to carry weapons. Cliatt said that the University’s policy on guns is based on a long-standing relationship between student and Public Safety officer that Princeton believes is and must remain respectful. The University feels that arming Public Safety officers with weapons would be “damaging” to this relationship. Cliatt said the University also “recognizes the fact that Princeton is located in two communities with sizable police forces that are readily available and accessible.”
Officer Eddie believes that the reason why some of the younger Public Safety officers want guns is because they look at other universities that have recently acquired the right to bear arms, and want to be able to do the same. Apparently it is as much an issue of style as of substance: some people have it, so other people want it. Many police forces on other university campuses have begun looking into the right to bear arms in recent years. Brown University gave their police force guns just three years ago. Yale University’s and Harvard University’s police members also carry guns on the job.
Healy has worked at both Wellesley College and Syracuse University prior to working at Princeton. He insists that while there are slight nuances that make each college unique, there is not much difference between working as a Public Safety officer at Princeton and as an officer on any other campus. “College campuses by and large are very safe places,” he said. “Campus policing is campus policing” no matter where the campus is located. He added that most campuses deal with similar problems day-to-day, such as bike theft, Princeton University’s number one crime problem.
Regardless of the similarities between the smaller crimes on campuses across the country, it is indisputable that Princeton students interact with their campus and town differently than students who attend schools in more urban settings. Multiple students who attend Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, said that they are often scared walking home at night for fear of encountering mentally unbalanced wanderers, armed aggressors, or people who are in any other way potentially dangerous. Students there receive e-mails quite frequently warning students of armed robberies, muggings, and even shootings that occur only blocks from their campus.
Princeton students do not usually receive e-mails of this nature. Public Safety e-mails at Princeton usually involve stolen bikes—the most common theft on campus—stolen laptops, and once, a sighting of a black bear (which we were instructed not to attempt to feed). Asking students whether they ever feel unsafe walking back to their rooms from the Street, I have yet to find a student who answers yes. Healy himself said, “We do have incidents on campus and around campus that I would consider dangerous incidents, but by and large Princeton is a very safe town and the campus is very safe.”
So this leaves Princeton students, during night hours, with not much to fear beyond getting in trouble with the university. The majority of students who I spoke to fear the presence of Public Safety in their hallways more than they fear the presence of dangerous outsiders on campus. It is therefore no surprise to learn that students are wary of the fact that Public Safety officers want to carry weapons with them on the job. More than one student expressed a feeling of unease at the idea of Public Safety officers having so much “power” on campus.
Officer Eddie said he believes that for every ten students or so who want to behave in ways that are damaging to themselves or others, there are ninety who appreciate the new efforts by Public Safety to make Princeton safer for everybody. This number is by no means exact. What is certain is that there exists a divide among students: there are those who feel that Public Safety has become stricter recently (and among these students, a further divide between those who are understanding and those who are less so), and those who say they have not noticed much of a change either way. Considering the split between students who drink large amounts at night and students who do not, these competing opinions are to be expected.
Whether or not Princeton is a campus that requires guns is something that cannot be decided by Princeton students. Whether RHP will be effective in lowering binge drinking remains to be seen. However, students’ perceptions of a campus affect the way they look at the police force responsible for them. When students think that they have little more to fear on a campus beyond getting in trouble with Public Safety, then tightened policies, scattered stories of individual Public Safety officers appearing out-of-line, and Public Safety’s wish to carry guns often translate into PR disasters for the campus force.
Still, there is hope for the University administration and Weinstein’s USG who both regard the student-officer relationship as a priority. Restoring this relationship to one of mutual respect and trust is far from an impossible task. The key is getting students and Public Safety to talk to one another instead of past one another. “I want them to understand that we want to work with them helping us be safe…” said Dave, “The real goal is a working relationship between Public Safety and the students.”
Some names have been changed. These names are indicated by asterisks.