A squad car rolls up to the sprawling mansion of a fraternity. The beer pong table needs a challenger, and the officers are more than happy to oblige, taking off their hats and rolling up their sleeves before letting the ping-pong ball fly.
Some, especially Cornell students who have found themselves involved with the Cornell University Police Department, wish the above scenario might occur — members of law enforcement in Ithaca remembering what it’s like to be college students.
Riding along with CUPD from roughly 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Friday showed much can also be learned from sitting inside the squad car. Reversing roles between the CUPD and Cornell students can enlighten both sides of the story.
Patrol Officer Jerrod Withrow listens to his iPod while on patrol, but “very, very quietly.”
He often forgets it’s on, and it is understandable, with the radio quipping loudly every 10 seconds or so. Despite serving shifts as long as 8 1⁄2 hours, sometimes starting at 11 p.m., it seems unlikely an officer could ever be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
To deal with the difficulty of patrolling such a large and rural campus as Cornell’s, CUPD breaks the campus up into four quadrants: North, Central, East and West.
“North and West are the most active on Friday, Saturday night,” Withrow said, driving along his West patrol route past busy sidewalks. “Just because of students, they’re all over, and not positive what they’re doing. You will see a steady stream of people for the next three hours.”
It’s not CUPD policy to keep abreast of the Cornell social scene, but a fairly recent policy requiring registration for parties keeps officers in the know about Greek activities on most weekends, particularly during prime times at the beginning of the school year.
Information that a house submits to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs goes to “us, the police chief, everybody.”
“There are certain requirements they have to abide by,” Withrow said. “A guest list of who’s invited, there has to be one sober person for every 20 people at the party, no common source of alcohol, checking IDs at the door, no non-Cornell students, they have to be invited guests …”
These rules are frequently disregarded, leading to dangerous situations for students and possible CUPD intervention.
Withrow pursued a crowded cab, but pointed out, “I’m not going to try and break my neck,” bringing up a key factor of misunderstanding between Cornell’s student community and local law enforcement. An officer’s time is a limited resource, so discretionary decisions are made by each officer for what offenses to pursue with the greatest diligence.
[img_assist|nid=31565|title=Hear those sirens|desc=Riding along with the Cornell University Police Department proved to one Sun reporter that cops and students are not all that different.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“When I stop a car I know even before I get out if I’m going to write a ticket or not,” he said. “People still think they can talk their way out of it.”
A major problem for CUPD is hesitation by concerned persons to make the call to 911.
“We try and educate people, that if something is going on, to notify us immediately,” he said.
But often what keeps an officer busy is personal to him or her.
“Every officer has their own little niche,” Withrow explained. “I like to get out, I like to meet people, just say hi and introduce myself. Some are really friendly and sit and talk to me for a few minutes, or they won’t even look at me.”
Withrow joked briefly about the intimidation factor.
“Sometimes, it’s even more entertaining to [follow groups of students] at 2 in the morning. You just follow really slowly and they all get really nervous,” he laughed.
“But you gotta realize, and every officer agrees with me, our main priority up here is safety,” he continued. “You know someone might think you’re just out there writing tickets, but I’m still thinking about everyone’s safety — on a night like tonight.”
The Cornell campus is largely within the City of Ithaca, but take a five-minute drive in any direction, and the campus crosses into the Town of Ithaca, Town of Dryden, the Village of Lansing, or the Village of Cayuga Heights. On campus, the CUPD takes priority, and students are also held accountable to the judicial administrative system and the campus code. When areas of responsibility overlap, CUPD may defer to local law enforcement, but often will end up taking the report. IPD still patrols on campus, as they have enforcement powers within the City of Ithaca.
Deputy Chief Kathy Zoner clarified, “Education Law and Criminal Procedure Law grants Cornell police the authority to enforce the law on Cornell property and roads running through and adjacent to Cornell. CUPD has a memorandum of understanding to assist the Ithaca Police in joint patrol situations and respond to major emergencies off campus.”
Collegetown — which is within the jurisdiction of the IPD — is a consistent source of activity, as seen in the allegedly hundreds of noise violation tickets issued in the past three weeks. Withrow expressed belief that more responsibility from residents would improve relations in the area.
“One thing that I always tell people that I deal with is that cops aren’t as stupid as they think we are. If I see a guy walking on the sidewalk on Dryden road with a Bud Light in his hand, I’ve already seen it,” Withrow described. “I always just wonder why they don’t stand there and admit to it? I’ve already seen it, so they’re going to get an open container … and as soon as they throw it they get another ticket for littering.”
Blue and red flashed across the parking lot next to Barton where the evening squad is assembled like a light show, as the night officers ran tests after the briefing to make sure each car is running efficiently. In a shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., the most active of any patrolled, an officer can’t afford to have a malfunction.
Patrol Officer Richard Curtiss adjusted his seat, joking that every officer has his or her own seating arrangements. He wears the yellow uniform of a bike officer from an earlier shift, a means of transportation he prefers to being behind the wheel of a squad car.
“Easier to get around,” he said, adding, “I very rarely ride up the slope …”
Typically, Curtiss deals with marijuana and under-age drinking violations, both offenses he claimed to have run into more frequently in his former employment at Ithaca College.
“It may be that most of your drug violations are happening in the frats [at Cornell] where we don’t have people walking through … but I’m kind of touching moral ground here.”
Most officers agreed that alcohol abuse is the most common problem on Cornell’s campus.
Curtiss noted the unique medical amnesty program at Cornell, under which a peer may call for emergency services for a friend in need, and that person will receive medical attention, if needed, and amnesty from the law, referred instead to Cornell’s judicial administrative program.
“I think it’s a great program,” he said. “We never want a situation where a student dies in their room because they’re afraid to call.”
A call comes over Curtiss’s radio, “Respond to Keeton House, call came from county, 19 year old male, highly ETOH, 1st floor bathroom.”
Curtiss then navigated the winding streets and wandering students at greater speed. This was an emergency situation involving alcohol abuse.
As he neared the newly constructed West campus dorms, several opened just several weeks ago, Curtiss expressed his unfamiliarity with the area.
“Doesn’t seem like a very user-friendly building,” he said, and an EMS worker agreed, adding, “I don’t know how we’re going to get a stretcher in here.”
Three EMS workers met him, and together with the emergency team he entered the building. Unable to find a stairwell, they were forced to wait for a slow-moving elevator. Once they exited the first floor, the team was met by the county emergency representative who explained he had already searched three bathrooms, trying to find the victim.
Eventually the student was found, and after an R.A. was sent out to direct BANGS, a stretcher was eventually brought up to the bathroom, with another two emergency responders. Such a delay, in a direr situation, could have been lethal.
“Well the buildings just opened up a couple days before students got here. A lot of buildings we couldn’t get to, they were construction zones. We’re at a disadvantage because we’re learning as we go.”
The student was deemed sufficiently stable to avoid hospitalization, and fell under the medical amnesty program.
Responding to such a call can take hours. Just for the duration of Curtiss’ response, three other alcohol related emergencies occurred. Curtiss reemphasized education as the preventative solution to such emergency situations and misunderstandings between students and law enforcement.
“We’ve encouraged some people that we’ve dealt with to come along with us,” Curtiss said, pulling into Collegetown where students continued socializing, unaware of such critical situations going on all around them. “We do more than open doors.”