Respect, Obey, and Question Authority

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I was of two minds when I started this response to Peter Soeller’s article “DPS Everywhere, Justice Nowhere.” I disagree with his heavy-handed approach towards demonizing the Department of Public Safety (DPS). But I am still able to see some value to his vitriol.

As their name implies, DPS’ purpose and existence on campus is protection and safety. When, during my freshman year, a student decided to spray my dorm with a fire extinguisher, DPS immediately came to evacuate the building and stop the student.  Sophomore year, when I accidentally sliced my palm open, a DPS officer cleaned my wound and helped me to the hospital. In a campus where, on the weekends, we students devolve into ‘mindless hedonism,’ we need someone to watch over us. Because, while some of the activities and substances a student indulges in are harmless self-gratification, not all are without consequences. In an environment where intoxicants and mood modifiers are plentiful, there is the very real danger that we can become a danger to others and ourselves as we self-medicate.

But protection, as people quickly point out, is only half of the department’s duty. They are a police force, tasked with arresting us when we slip up. They, like all police, are a necessary requirement for any community, college or otherwise, to function peacefully and efficiently. And without them serving as duly sworn officers under Pennsylvania law, the college would fall under the jurisdiction of the Carlisle Police Department (CPD). Beyond the differences in how each law enforcement agency handles reported crimes, the already stretched-thin CPD would have difficulty responding to every small and large disturbance and crime in the timely fashion that we (sometimes much to our chagrin) enjoy.

As agents created by this state, DPS officers are sworn to uphold its laws. No matter your stance on drugs or marijuana, they are still illegal substances in Pennsylvania. And yes, laws do change. As Soeller wrote, the law that it was illegal to harbor escaped slaves in this state has long been repealed. But the current laws are the laws that the police are sworn to serve. And it is their role as servants to the law that earns them such demonizing criticism: It is easier to attack the flesh and blood arbiter than to rail against an unseen legislation.

I cannot speak to Soeller’s accusations against DPS for illegal conduct. I cannot because I do not know the whole story. The one punished may be innocent or guilty. It is our duty to learn the facts and make intelligent decisions based on as complete of an understanding as we can manage.

Soeller was correct when he wrote “police officers are human.” They can be wicked. Just a few weeks ago a Public Safety Officer at Golden West College in California was dismissed from his position after posting pro-Nazi and racist images online. Such a man is not suitable to serve and protect a student body. But the stains of one man do not stretch down the entire stripe, in the same way that the actions or inactions of a single member of the Department of Public Safety do not reflect on them as a whole. If an officer was acting incorrectly, bring up a grievance. If the department is corrupt, lobby to have it changed.

Watch and question authority. There is not and should never be a mortal that is beyond scrutiny. Ask why something is and why you should follow it. But respect that there are laws in place; do not break them because you object to them. Fight intelligently and peacefully to change them. And respect those who serve and protect us.