Last night, Student Council held a fireside chat with Swarthmore Police Chief Brian Craig and Sergeant Raymond Stufflet. Topics of discussion included recent student-police interactions, the relationship between the department and the college, and general policing philosophy.
Craig presented the general department attitude towards Swarthmore students as that they are to be treated the same as any other residents. ‘Our primary interest is to protect the people, the citizens of Swarthmore–that includes you,” he said. This theme was evident throughout the evening, as it was applied to such issues as underage drinking, police presence on campus, and students being stopped while walking late at night. Craig denied that there has been “overpolicing” or a “crackdown” on student activity this semester, describing the 2-3 incidents that have occurred as “coincidence.”
One concern of many students is that when the police are called, more cars and officers show up than are necessary. Citing the department’s small staff of 8 officers, Craig explained that, 38% of the time, there is only one officer on duty. When a call is made during such a period, the officer makes a call for help to surrounding communities that officers from several other departments may respond to. According to Craig, this is standard practice among the small departments of the area.
The relationship between a college campus and a police department is bound to be challenging because, as Craig said, “we’re law enforcement officers. We’re sworn to uphold the law,” but also that, “we don’t go looking for trouble.” Police patrols of campus are designed to discourage serious crimes such as assault and robbery in accordance to the department philosophy of trying to stop crime before it starts. Officers listen to college radio and come onto campus when they feel that Public Safety may need assistance in addressing a problem. This is necessary because public safety officers are not armed and are not able to make arrests. “Public safety has never exercised any enforcement powers,” noted Craig.
A major incident of student-police interaction this year was last October’s ML Halloween Party. Craig explained that police came to ML because they had received calls complaining about the loud noise of the party from three Strath Haven Condominiums residents. He outlined department policy as being to give party hosts and PAs a warning about noise after the first call, which often works, but to take more serious action if there are further complaints. According to Craig, Ville residents tend to be understanding of the unique needs and desires of college students but, “when somebody in the Ville calls 911, we’re responsible for answering.”
Jason Horwitz ’07 brought up two concerns: a recent occasion in which a student was stopped by an officer while walking to Wawa late at night and an incident in the fall where a student was cited for underage drinking after bringing a friend to the Worth Health Center. Craig explained that the “Wawa incident” occurred because three attempted burglaries (one was successful) had occurred recently only a block away from where the student was walking. He defended the officer on the grounds that she was taking a reasonable step to prevent crime, exhorting each of the roughly 20 assembled students to “put yourself in the officer’s shoes.”
Several students expressed worry that the threat of punishment would cause students to risk their health by avoiding Worth when they are drunk. Stufflet advised students to consider the risks of violating underage drinking laws before they decide to drink. “If violations occur, they’re going to be cited,” he said, though he pointed out that receiving a citation is not a big deal as it will not appear on one’s permanent record; however, as was explained later, Pennsylvania law requires that parents be notified of any such violations.
While acknowledging the intelligence and character exemplified by Swarthmore students in general, Craig and Stufflet warned students to avoid thinking that they are in any way above or apart from the law. “If you get comfortable thinking that any illegal action can occur here without penalty, we’re not doing our job,” said Craig. He encouraged students to visit the police station with any concerns. As Stufflet said, “the only way to get truth is to ask directly.”