Examining a contested case

Given the ambiguous details surrounding the recent altercation between Alex Jerred ’15, Campus Safety and Security and the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), the following opinions of the Record board are speculative. While we can express an opinion on what the allegations and confusion surrounding the event mean, the investigation is ongoing and thus it is impossible for us to editorialize on the exact events with complete certainty. However, we must address the situation as it stands.

Jerred alleges that the WPD searched him illegally without his consent, and that when he panicked and ran away, Security officers attempted to restrain him and committed assault, injuring him in their excessive force. We at the Record are glad that the College is taking his allegations seriously by investigating his claims instead of dismissing them out of hand. It would be easy to assume that a student being investigated for serious charges would attempt to exaggerate the circumstances surrounding his arrest, but we feel that even the suggestion of misconduct on the part of Security is worth looking into. Thus, we are glad to hear that administrators, like Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass and the deans, are conducting a serious inquiry in order to fully understand the chaotic circumstances surrounding Jerred’s arrest.

We acknowledge that Security was placed in a difficult position, given that they were unsure of Jerred’s identity and whether he possessed a weapon. While we cannot speak to the validity of the allegations made against them, we hope that Security acted as best they could to protect students in what they understood to be a potentially dangerous situation. If Jerred felt that Security was not on his side, however, and was not there for his safety and protection – as evidenced by Jerred’s ill-advised decision to deny that he was a student and by his fear when Security attempted to restrain him – then it is important to examine Security’s perceived role on campus. Student suspicion of Security, which extends beyond this single incident, is a symptom of a tense relationship between Security and students.

We do not expect Security to stop doing its job, which includes making sure that underage students are not drinking illegally or using illegal drugs and keeping student activities in accordance with both the rules of the College and the law. However, we think that Security needs to set a different tone in their dealings with students. We want Security to demonstrate that student well-being is its priority – even when students are found in violation of the law – and that Security is primarily focused on respectfully protecting students’ safety rather than trying to penalize them excessively or intimidate them with threats of charges.

The relationship between Security and students is a two-way street, however, and we at the Record also feel that students can improve their attitude toward Security officers. As students of the College and law-abiding citizens, we must recognize when we are in the wrong and respectfully accept responsibility for our wrongful actions. If a Security officer approaches a student to address a legitimate issue of Security, we at the Record feel that students should treat the officer with the respect that they deserve as members of the community who are, in theory, doing their jobs to keep us safe. A relationship of mutual respect is one that will improve interactions between the two parties significantly.

We think that one way to improve the relationship between Security and students would be to clarify Security’s policies. It would be helpful for students to know what Security is permitted or not permitted to do, particularly what and when they can and cannot search in regard to students’ personal property. While much of this information is published in the Student Handbook, many students never bother to flip through the extensive guidelines therein. While this is not Security’s fault, Security should seriously consider new ways to address the campus, perhaps utilizing programming like First Days and Sophomorientation to recognize that many students will have to deal with situations where they are in conflict with Security. A clear set of expectations from Security could reduce student anxiety and fear over interactions with officers.

The charges against Jerred, and whether or not he will contest those charges, are still part of an open case. But if his allegations prove to be true, then there are clearly larger problems at stake. Mendy Bindell ’16, a first-year student who was with Jerred when Security was called regarding the smell of marijuana, claimed that Security took the marijuana from him. It is illegal for Security to handle any kind of controlled substance. More importantly, if Jerred’s allegations of Security’s brutality are true, then we strongly condemn Security for their use of force. Such use of force, if it actually occurred, violates Security’s fundamental purpose, which is the protection of students.

In the end, the resolution of Jerred’s charges and the conclusion of the College’s investigation will provide the final words on what happened during this unfortunate altercation. Regardless of the outcome, though, we encourage Security and students to rethink their relationship together on campus.