DPS Everywhere, Justice Nowhere

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The college’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) poses an existential threat to student democracy on campus. Their existence represents an authoritarian force against students who simply seek to engage in mindless hedonism on the weekends to escape the stress of their classes and social lives. They claim to be making campus safer by engaging students in a drug war. The vast majority of students who attend Dickinson have admitted to at least trying alcohol or cannabis if not actively engaged in using them every weekend. That being said, DPS’s war on drugs constitutes a class war, waged against a group of students who choose to consume their substances recreationally without any malicious intent.

We recognize that under-aged drinking is illegal as well as the consumption of cannabis. But legality does not equal morality. Only 170 years ago was it illegal to harbor escaped slaves. Even more recently, it was illegal for black people to sit at the same lunch counters as whites. The people who fought these indignities bled and died for a more democratic society. These activists fought in direct defiance of the law in order to change it. Current drug laws arbitrarily marginalize and condemn drug users to severe sentences for nothing more than ingesting taboo substances. This injustice deserves to be challenged with the same resolve as the aforementioned indignities.

Many college students suffer from some form of anxiety disorder or depression. In lieu of pharmaceuticals, many students use cannabis to reduce anxiety and relax after extensively studying during the weekdays. SSDP’s original drug use poll found that 67% of recreational drug users on campus have a GPA of 3.0 or better, meaning that there is no correlation between smoking cannabis and academic failure. By harassing and abusing these students, police officers are discriminating against a group of people, of which many struggle with anxiety disorders. These students are neither violent nor disruptive, yet the police treat them like criminals.

DPS has employed a slew of questionable tactics to obtain evidence against students in the past. If an officer has probable cause that a student is committing an illegal act, then they have the ability to chase down and tackle that student. One such source told me that a DPS officer found a minuscule nugget of cannabis on his person after tackling him; that same student would later be charged with possession. Not only did the search violate this student, but the fact that DPS is allowed to use physical violence against students who pose them no physical threat should alarm everyone who values their rights as free individuals. Other sources reported that DPS often enters students’ rooms without their consent. A source in DPS told me a list existed of 6 students to which officers are supposed to pay special attention. One of these students aroused suspicion for nothing more than being the president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.

If these allegations are true, we have been letting DPS violate Federal privacy education laws and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Nick Formus ’15, a Dining Services Student Supervisor, member of the service fraternity APO, and aspiring physics major with a GPA of 3.5, shared his personal interactions with DPS. Those of us who know Formus are aware that he struggles with a speech impediment in the form of a stutter. During his Freshmen year, a DPS officer forced him to go to the hospital under suspicion of drinking on the basis of his stuttering. Formus protested asking to be breathalyzed to prove his sobriety. The officer informed him that they do not carry breathalyzers. DPS feels that it is necessary to carry firearms with them into college dormitories but not breathalyzers and then have the arrogance to assume intoxication without gathering hard evidence.

As a society we incorrectly assume that police officers exercise legitimate authority. In reality, society must understand that police officers are human beings with all the uncertainties, irrationality, and fallibility that brings. Your average officer is not a legal expert and must rely on bluffing, improvisation, and dishonesty to do their jobs effectively. We give them the ability to search and seize property and person only because we tolerate it. If you wouldn’t let an ordinary person with a gun and handcuffs into your room without a good reason, why would you cooperate with the police? As a society, we deplore violence and must challenge it in all of its forms. Just because someone has a badge and a uniform does not excuse them for their use of violence. Upon the publication of this article, I am starting a Dickinson Copwatch program. Those of you interested in watching the watchmen to ensure the protection of our privacy please contact me at 860-287-7842 or at [email protected]