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Cracking the College Enforcement Initiative

By Jack Keefe and Dougal Sutherland

The raid by state police on a party at Haverford College and the “College Enforcement Initiative” cited in part as the raid’s cause have put many members of the college community on edge. Many questions have emerged to order the confusion generated from that raid: What is the College Enforcement Initiative? Why did the state police target Haverford? Will they target Swarthmore? What can be done to prevent that?

The Haverford Raid & The College Enforcement Initiative

Sgt. William La Torre of the Liquor Control Board notably indicated that the raid was one of many measures planned under the aegis of the College Enforcement Initiative, which entails an enhanced enforcement focus on underage drinking at colleges. La Torre, Commander of the district office for Delaware, Chester, and Philadelphia counties, said that the purpose of that initiative is to “get the word out” on college campuses about the penalties for underage drinking.

The goal of the program, said La Torre, is to make a series of highly visible alcohol “busts” at various colleges and universities in the area, especially during September and October. The hope is that students will realize “what the penalties are” and then be able to “make an informed decision” about whether to drink.

“The legislators of Pennsylvania have deemed that if you’re under 21, you shouldn’t drink… All I can do is enforce the laws on the books. With respect to whether they break the law in private or in public, either way they’re breaking the law.”

Though a report from the Liquor Control Board described the initiative [page 96; file is a 900kb PDF] as “a cooperative program with local and university law enforcement agencies,” during the raid at Haverford neither township police nor Haverford’s Safety & Security department were notified until the raid was under way. Their counterparts at Swarthmore, Chief Brian Craig of the Swarthmore borough police and Owen Redgrave of Public Safety, both said that the state police would be under no obligation to contact either organization were a similar raid to occur at Swarthmore.

In an interview with the Gazette, La Torre said that normally, his office works “hand-in-hand” with schools’ law enforcement agencies. In the Haverford incident, however, he cited two mitigating factors. One was that Haverford Safety & Security department, like Swarthmore’s Public Safety, is not a police agency. Although certain members of the department may be sworn police officers, the department falls entirely under the purview of the college administration. La Torre called that “really atypical;” larger schools generally handle their security through full police departments.

Moreover, the anonymous tipster at Haverford claimed that the administration was intentionally “turning a blind eye” towards underage drinking on campus, and by extension, campus security. Because La Torre’s office “didn’t know whether that allegation was true,” they wanted to “maximize the element of surprise” and so waited until arriving to contact Safety & Security. (Upon later investigation, La Torre said that his office “didn’t see any evidence” that the administration was behaving irresponsibly.)

If the department receives a tip or requests for help from anyone, they will look into it, as they did in the Haverford incident. In those situations, La Torre said that his unit “does a full investigation, using all resources available”—including Facebook. “We look for events that are advertised as occurring,” he said, “and then investigate further.”

The Swarthmore Police Department’s policy is based on strict enforcement of the law. Chief Craig said, “When we become aware of [underage drinking], we do enforce” the relevant laws. Yet although the College campus is on their regular patrol routes, the “primary purpose of [those] patrols is the safety of everyone involved… they’re not specifically for underage drinking enforcement.” He said that Swarthmore police “do not go in buildings unless we have a specific call or need to do that.” His main concern with the issue, historically, has been that “the College handles things the way they’re supposed to,” especially with respect to local high school students showing up to College parties.

In the Haverford raid, students were only cited for underage drinking—no one was charged with the misdemeanor of providing alcohol to a minor. La Torre said that this is not true of all of his department’s activities at colleges. When it’s clear who is furnishing the alcohol, he said, as when “an undercover officer pays his $5 and gets his cup” for beer at a frat party, the officers may attempt to detain individuals identified as the providers first.

Some commentators have also taken note of the fact that the party at Haverford was outside, which is a legally distinct situation from if it was inside a college-owned (or private) building. La Torre verified that the distinction is sometimes meaningful, but wanted to dispel the notion that indoor spaces are completely off-limits from the police. “In many situations we would need a warrant,” he said, but “there are also many circumstances that would not require a warrant.” The observation of any crimes occurring “within plain view,” or when there are “exigent circumstances regarding someone’s health or welfare,” would fall into the latter category of circumstances.

The Administration’s Response

In Assistant Director for Student Life Kelly Wilcox’s estimation, the Haverford raid has “added credibility to” efforts undertaken by the Dean’s Office to provide support for students on the issue of alcohol. After the raid, Wilcox sent an e-mail out to party hosts, PAs, and RAs reminding them that “it is really in student’s best interests to have party permits” so that both the administration and Public Safety are aware of events and their individual concerns, and so that the College can better respond to problems that may arise at any given event. Wilcox informally estimated that “within 24 hours” of the Haverford raid, the number of students coming for party permits for events small and large “increased 3-fold.”

With regards to the safety of Swarthmore parties, Wilcox also emphasized the role of the Party Associates in checking IDs, marking hands of students of age, managing guest sign-in, regulating crowd control, enforcing the terms of a given party permit, looking out for overly intoxicated students, and serving as first responders for incidents at parties. (Background reports to the Gazette indicate that, for the vast majority of weekend events occurring these past two weeks, Party Associates were on-site at parties checking IDs and enforcing entrance policies.)

“That [the Dean’s Office’s style] is to educate and to be a resource… is pretty unique to this campus, and it’s one of our strongest traits,” Wilcox said. She cited an example of a recent conversation wherein a student contacted her directly with concerns that drinks at a particular party had been mixed with high-proof grain alcohol that led partygoers to significantly underestimating their alcohol consumption. Wilcox used her party-permit records to contact the host of that party. “Within 5 minutes,” the former host had responded to Wilcox to address her remarks, and indicated the specific measures they would take to resolve said concern at future events they would host.

“I really appreciated the fact that a student felt comfortable enough to share their concern… and the willingness of the host to communicate,” Wilcox said. “I wasn’t interested in adjudicating, I was interested in moving forward, in going ‘here on out, how can I make this event safe?’ … No student on campus should be surprised by what’s in their drink.”

Wilcox also emphasized that while the administration is not tolerant of lawbreaking occurring at parties hosted on-campus, that their primary focus with regards to underage drinkers is their safety. “Don’t hesitate to ask seek help: any ramifications of a citation or anything else would be minor compared to ensuring someone’s safe, healthy, and being taken care of,” Wilcox said.

Effects on Campus Life

Student conversation has concentrated in part on the question of whether Swarthmore will be targeted, and, if so, when. A member of DU said that last weekend’s Toga Party saw “noticeably fewer” attendees than it had in past years, though there were still “a decent amount of people” who showed up. He attributed that decline to rumors that the police might be conducting a raid on Saturday night. Although to his knowledge there was no reason to think that DU in particular might be targeted, “a lot of people were worried that the cops were coming” to DU. “These things kind of take a life of their own,” he said. “There was an email from the Worth RAs, and then that circulated.”

Indeed, an email sent this past weekend to residents of the Worth dormitory by the Worth RAs warned students to be especially cautious of many activities on Saturday night in particular, especially those involving drinking outside or transporting alcohol across campus, and advised students to contact the DART team should they have any alcohol-related issues over the weekend. Although many RAs sent emails to their halls with similar warnings, the Worth email was circulated widely around campus by residents. The email stated that a member of the administration had told them there was “reason to believe that we should be extremely vigilant this weekend,” which led the RAs to write that they believed “we will likely be targeted this weekend.”

“It’s important that we comply and do these little things to keep each other safe… We don’t want to give the state police a reason to cite 30+ students,” the RAs stated in their e-mail. Despite fears to the contrary, no such “raids” occurred this weekend. However, two students were hospitalized showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning this past Friday, and both were cited for drinking while underage.