Last week, The Sun reported a 75-percent increase in drug- and alcohol-related offenses recorded by the Cornell University Police Department from 2007 to 2009. It was eye-opening, to say the least. Since it is unlikely that the number of drug and alcohol users has increased by 75 percent in two years, what caused the increase in offenses? One of the explanations given by the CUPD makes sense: there was an increase over the same time period in fully-trained police officers, who are more likely to take the initiative and pursue possible offenders. The other explanation — that a “cultural change” over the two-year span has led more people to smoke marijuana in public — is less convincing.
Even if the increase in offenses is not a result of an enforcement policy change, as the CUPD claims, it is still a disturbing trend. These numbers thrust into the spotlight the nature of the relationship between police and students in Ithaca, and make us question the differences between fighting crime for the sake of fighting crime and maintaining law and order.
The uptick in enforcement appears to be part of a broader trend at Cornell. The Judicial Administrator adjudicated 108 drug- or alcohol-related cases in 1999. In 2008, it adjudicated 538 such cases. Furthermore, the percentage of total J.A. adjudications that are related to drugs or alcohol has increased from 38 to 73 percent.
The number of alcohol-related medical emergencies has remained stable over the same time period, indicating that students are not necessarily safer due to this increased enforcement, regardless of whether that enforcement is a policy proscription. The seven alcohol-related disturbances in 2009 was a five-year low, but that number has rebounded to 14 in the first half of 2010 alone, so it does not appear that increased enforcement has led to increased public order, either. Cornell students’ drug and alcohol usage is not going away, despite a more active police force.
Yale University is grappling with similar issues following a controversial raid of a nightclub in which, students claim, according to The Yale Daily News, that SWAT-outfitted New Haven Police Department officers used excessive force in arresting five students then tasering and beating another. The disconnect between the severity of the force used by the NHPD and the severity of the misdemeanors committed by the Yale students calls into question the value of such an intrusive philosophy, since the police presence may have actually worsened the situation. This raid further damaged the already-strained relationship between Yale and its community’s police department.
With unmarked Ithaca Police Department cars patrolling Collegetown and the great regularity with which noise violations are handed out, Cornell has seen its own examples of how these intrusive police actions can stoke tensions between students and law enforcement. For example, the CUPD has promised to enforce existing jaywalking laws, but is the added safety resulting from this enforcement worth the further strain it will put on the relationship between students and officers?
Police should obviously enforce the law. But those dictating the tactics of enforcement should think long and hard about the goals of the police department — we urge them to consider safety, health and a productive police-student relationship.