Amid complaints from Junior Advisors (JAs) frustrated by a string of unexplained intrusions, College Security officially announced its new community policing policy for the 1999-2000 school year. The new policy aims to improve dorm atmosphere and reduce illegal drinking through increased security presence and visibility.
Several incidents between first-years and Security in the first few weeks of school prompted concern among the Junior Advisors. One JA in the Freshman Quad, who wished to remain anonymous, said “in one case, four students were sitting in their common room, and there was no music or noise in the room, and Security happened to come through. [The students] happened to have beers in their hands and they were written up. There was no provocation or anything.”
One of the first-years involved told the same story. “It was four people in our common room with the door closed. There was no music or anything,” he said. “It sort of bothers me that I’ve only been in school for a few weeks and I already have one strike against me.”
“There have been several other incidents of people just sitting in their common room and drinking and Security passing through and writing them up,” the JA said.
Security has made its presence felt even on quiet weeknights in the Quad. “We were just in the basement of Sage watching TV,” another Frosh Quad JA said. “One Security guard came in from one side of the room, and then he left. Then another Security guard came in the other door, we told him that we were okay, and he said something about trying to make sure that nobody ran out the other way,” she explained. “It was just a Wednesday night…so it was a little strange.”
JA Ami Parekh ’01 said other JAs complained of Security coming down the hall, opening people’s doors and looking in their rooms without any justification. Parekh said the incidents were concentrated in the Quad, Morgan and Lehman, but even in Fayerweather, “I did experience [a] little of it.”
Such occurrences caused confusion and worry among the JAs and prompted them to go to College Council for help. “We just went because we had no idea where Security’s increased role was coming from,” JA Co-president Beth Cadogan ’01 said.
“[We] went to College Council in an attempt to voice our opinions and discover what exactly had prompted what appeared to us a sudden change in Security’s walk-through policy,” explained JA Co-president Felton Booker ’01. “As you can tell from the meeting’s minutes, the members of CC were just as baffled as we were,” Booker said.
Director of Security Jean Thorndike acknowledges the confusion caused by lack of communication. “I hold myself responsible for not providing students with adequate information about our com
munity policing policy,” she said. “Everyone needed to be better informed and the confusion, concern and controversy would not have occurred when the officers began to appear in and around the dorms.”
In a meeting with the JA Advisory Committee and Dean of the College Peter Murphy, Thorndike attempted to clarify Security’s new role on campus.
“I think it is best defined as the community policing concept,” Thorndike said. “Security officers will be more visible while patrolling the campus and provide a presence in and around residential halls. Basically, it involves breaking down barriers that are often created when officers remain in cruisers and do not interact with the community,” she explained. “It is certainly a proactive crime prevention approach that enables personal contact with the community on a daily basis, not just when a crime is committed or when there is a crisis.”
Thorndike developed the policy in conjunction with Murphy. “We are always thinking about our policies, their effectiveness and our obligations under the law,” Murphy said. “We decided that Security needed to have a clearer and more visible presence on campus.”
According to Thorndike and Murphy, the reasons for the new policy are three-fold. The first goal is crime prevention. “One of our primary responsibilities is to maintain a safe campus environment. Although no campus will ever be crime-free, we want a policy in place that will enhance or crime prevention initiatives,” Thorndike said.
“Increased patrols, visibility and presence in the dorms can have a positive effect to deter crime. High profile patrol activity helps to remove the window of opportunity that is needed to commit a crime. In that respect, I think our policy benefits the College community,” she said.
The second goal is an improved atmosphere in the dorms. “Following the Committee on Undergraduate Life’s substance-free housing survey, it became apparent that many students were concerned about conditions in their dorms that resulted from the careless and thoughtless behavior of students. This behavior is associated with parties, with the use of alcohol and with random acts of vandalism,” Thorndike said. “It is our hope that a Security presence in dorms will help to address these concerns and perhaps reduce or eliminate the frequency of undesirable activity.”
“What I learned from the substance-free debate is that there are many people who are unhappy, oppressed, harassed or disgusted by their living situation and who feel that there is no real way to get control of it,” Murphy agreed. “A very slightly increased Security presence is a simple way to give students a sense that somebody is aware and can be counted on to care,” he explained.
The third goal is to respond to underage drinking. “Since all colleges are required to address the problem of underage drinking and binge drinking, this policy represents an active response to those problems by identifying alcohol violations and addressing them through our sanction procedure,” Thorndike said.
Thorndike and Murphy emphasized that the new policy is designed for the entire campus, not just first-years. “We are not targeting first-year dorms only. This is a general policy,” Murphy said.
Thorndike echoed Murphy’s sentiments. “Perhaps it appears that freshman entries are being targeted, but that is not the case,” she said. “Officers are conducting walk-throughs in all dorms. We are not trying to single out any particular group or any particular housing unit.”
Thorndike also responded to complaints of Security guards overstepping their bounds. “Security had no reported incidents filed directly with us,” defended Thorndike. “It was never our intention to be intrusive. Our activity is defined in terms of the ‘plain view’ doctrine. In other words, if we observe something that violates college policy then we will intervene and take the appropriate action to address the violation,” she said.
However, Thorndike did notify the Security officers of the third party complaints. “I discussed the situation with the Security staff during a departmental meeting. I wanted to clarify our approach and reaffirm our position,” she said.
Now that the policy and its implications have been elucidated, Security and the Deans indicated willingness to work with students on improving it.
“Obviously, with the implementation of any new policy or practice, there is a trial and error period. We plan to evaluate, assess and re-define any aspects of the policy that are not producing the desired results,” Thorndike promised. “Officer and student input is extremely important,” she added.
“Any new practice has its flaws, and everyone makes mistakes. So I would not be surprised if we haven’t done everything exactly right,” acknowledged Murphy. “We work very hard at correcting our mistakes and doing things better, and we will do that with this too.”
“The Dean’s Office and Security are very supportive of JA concerns,” Booker agreed. “Director Thorndike encouraged JAs to provide her, in writing, with any information that might assist her in inquiring into her department,” he said.
Murphy indicated some initial progress had already been made: “We worked out some modifications in a meeting of the JA Advisory Group,” he said. “It is…a clearer definition of responsibilities. It is important that we acknowledge the JAs in their space, and we think we can find ways to do that, and not simply abandon them at the same time.”
The JAs appear satisfied. “Security issued a statement clarifying their policy, which is really what the JAs wanted,” Parekh said. “It’s been resolved.”