This past Homecoming Weekend, 59 arrests were made, almost all by the Durham Police Department (Durham PD) and the University of New Hampshire Police Department (UNH PD). Alcohol is most often the cause, a factor present throughout the decades. While alcohol as the key problem has not changed, student-police interactions and the legislation police follow have, particularly since the 1980s, UNH PD Chief Paul Dean and Durham PD Chief Dave Kurz explained.
In the 1980s, Dean said, students caught with alcohol or intoxicated were given a court summons instead of being arrested. The summons, a ticket, led to the student having to pay a fine and undergo alcohol education.
“In the ’90s, a local defense attorney decided, completely within their right, to defend their client…say to the court ‘my client is here, and I want the police officer to pick them out’” from among others in the courtroom, Dean said, explaining that to charge an individual, an officer must be able to identify someone in court.
Officers struggled with doing this since court dates were often long after the student had been given a summons, and the initial interaction where the student was given a summons was short—a 15-minute process, which did not allow officers a chance to remember someone’s face. Since officers could not identify individuals, alcohol cases were dropped, and court summons did not act as an effective deterrent to alcohol-related behavior.
The Durham and UNH PDs decided to move to arrests, Kurz said. When processing an individual after an arrest, individuals are photographed, which allowed an officer to then identify the individual in court.
Arrests also were an effective deterrent to alcohol behavior—Kurz worked with Dr. Donna Perkins, a clinical associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts to confirm this, publishing a short research report in “The Police Chief” magazine in 2015. Perkins had graduate students survey other students, and concluded that arrests did deter students from irresponsible, dangerous and nuisance behavior with alcohol.
“We can’t arrest our way out of these problems,” Kurz stressed, however. Not only is doing so a great financial burden, but “our goal is to arrest nobody.”
Individual arrests, Dean said, depend on the situation, but behavior such as visible intoxication or behavior that led to the officers having to respond to a civilian’s phone call do attract law enforcement attention.
“Don’t raise attention to yourself that would cause us to focus on you, for whatever reason that may be,” Kurz said.
Dean and Kurz also detailed a New Hampshire state law on internal possession, which makes it illegal for individuals under 21 to consume enough alcohol to have a blood alcohol level above 0.02.
This internal possession law also works to ensure safety of the intoxicated individual. “If it’s foreseeable, it’s preventable,” Dean said.
The UNH campus also presents a unique situation: in other towns, when an individual is picked up for intoxication, they can be released to a sober trusted individual, such as a relative. Many of the 15,000 students that attend UNH do not have relatives nearby. Arresting an individual thus keeps a student out of harm’s way until they are sober enough to monitor themselves.
Arresting students to ensure their safety is also prompted by the 1986 Weldy v. Town of Kingston court case, Kurz and Dean added. Kingston is a town in Rockingham County. Weldy, Dean explained, was a police officer and father whose son had died in a car accident. The son was in a car with that was stopped for alcohol possession. The officers recognized the son, and only took away the alcohol. The group acquired more alcohol, and got into a car accident.
“An opinion then came from the attorney general office’s that we shall take people into custody, not you can, you shall take people into custody.” Dean said.
Thus, if an underage individual is driving a car, and one of the passengers has alcohol and is not an immediate family member, “We have no choice but to arrest that driver, seize the car, and hold it for 24 hours,” Dean said.
“It’s truly for people’s safety,” he added. “At the end of the day I’d rather have your mom mad at me for taking you into custody…then have you not be here or be a victim of another crime.”
Over time, the two police departments have seen arrest numbers fall dramatically. Dean said that there used to be close to a hundred individuals arrested in a weekend, to approximately 10 between both the UNH and Durham PDs.
“And success isn’t just in enforcement…alcohol and alcohol issues are a public health issue.” Dean said, explaining how the UNH PD works with a variety of organizations and institutions on campus to provide alternatives to drinking.
Kurz provided The New Hampshire with weekly statistics on arrests, highlighting that last week, including Homecoming Weekend, most of the individuals the Durham PD arrested weren’t students. Dean said that for the UNH PD thus far this academic year “all of our arrestable offenses are down double digits this year,” compared to last year.
Dean and Kurz also balance the interests of their focal communities: Dean has to struggle with students partaking in the college experience, while Kurz has to attend to that Durham is not only the location of a college, but a residential community.
“‘Durham should not become the playground for bad behavior,’” Kurz quoted a statement he had received in meetings of the Durham town council. “It was a balance between trying to find the ability to have you guys stretch and push envelopes as you live through being in college, and then not having it so destructive to the community,” he said.
Kurz said that with “high visibility,” using high amounts of police presence to deter irresponsible behavior, as well as deter other individuals wanting to take criminal advantage of students who may be intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated.
Dean explained UNH’s use of the three-strike policy, which is part of the Student Code of Conduct. Each time a student is arrested, even off campus, Dean said, they are required to meet with the dean of their respective college, each meeting accounting for one strike. At the third strike, the student has to take a semester off. This policy has led to a decline in student arrests. Student actions, regardless of the student’s location, reflect on the university, he pointed out.
Kurz made a point to mention that “while we do our best to hire the right people for this unique policing environment, we both employ humans…they make mistakes once in a while.” This however, does not mean that officers are allowed to abuse and neglect their authority. Mistakes are corrected and discipline enacted when needed. “We just don’t tolerate bad behavior from our police officers either.”
A student’s arrest is not on their permanent record, contrary to popular belief, Dean added, speaking of “conditional discharge,” which occurs if a student does not get charged for any other crimes after an arrest.
“We’re signing all the time for these kids to have their records expunged in the courts…this isn’t something that travels with them forever. That’s something that our prosecutors do on a regular basis,” Dean said.
After leaving the discussion with Kurz, Dean added that the UNH PD have begun increasing use of hand summons in residence halls, saying that the interaction with an officer that leads to a summons distract students from the behavior they were engaging in. Students are less likely to return to that behavior after being handed a summons.
“It’s all in the matter of keeping people safe at the end of the day. That’s the most important thing to me,” he said.