Public Safety officers are seeing new and old drug trends reappearing on West Chester University campus. “I have a zero tolerance for drugs,” Sgt. Matthew Paris said, a criminal investigator of Public Safety Police Department. As long as a drug is illegal, Paris said he will keep enforcing the law. He said he will continue doing his job of confiscating drugs on campus as well as making arrests of drug dealers and persons in possession of an illegal drug.
“Every August is like a reset button,” Paris said.
Every year new students arrive to campus, not realizing the boundaries; these new students contribute to arrests being higher in the beginning of the school year.
Occassionally, students moving out of their residence halls on move-in day in August as they got caught in possession of drugs or of using drugs. Paris said every year about five or six students will withdraw from the University after being arrested for intent to deliver.
Students who were removed from the University grounds for a drug arrest are told not to return to the campus. If they do return, they will be arrested for criminal trespassing. For this reason, Paris said only a few students are repeat offenders of drug possession as students are removed from campus grounds without being allowed to return.
WCU is “a learning environment” in which students who are arrested for taking part in illegal drug activities will “throw it all away for something stupid.”
One year, Paris arrested a first-year student for selling drugs to a minor. Such drug charges will obstruct college students from obtaining the degree they want and from “getting the career job you want” with a criminal record.
“Every year is like a rollercoaster,” Paris said, as there are always new incoming students. Most students think they won’t get caught for drug possession, dealing or underage drinking. In the few months of the school year, the number of arrests and citations is higher than the number at the end of the academic year.
Every semester, about 30 pipes and five bongs are confiscated. Confiscated for evidence, one bong has a picture of President Obama on the front. Paris said the police have confiscated all sizes of bongs and all colors of pipes.
The plain smell of burnt marijuana is probable cause that an illegal drug is being used. Neighbors typically call Public Safety [610-436-3311] to report an odor smell of marijuana use.
First year students are “not aware of what we [as Public Safety officers] do here,” Paris said. New students repeat the trends the officers see on campus. During freshman orientation, Public Safety officers speak to students about patrolling the campus and discuss that Piper is the K-9 unit on campus.
In residence halls, people watch the K- 9 unit take action, or see Public Safety officers patrolling the buildings. Students see this as they begin to understand that the officers are protecting them as the public. When police are being reactive to a situation, it is possible that seeing people in handcuffs may deter others from violating University policies or state laws.
According to Paris, drug investigations are a “50 / 50” percentage of proactive and reactive. Police are on foot patrol on south campus and the residential quad.
At the Village and South Campus Apartments, students commit a fire hazard by duck taping their door as an effort to block the smell of marijuana. Students may place cups on smoke detectors, another fire hazard. These fire hazards and attempt to conceal the odor of the drug gives police enough probable cause to enter the apartment.
“It’s all about how you talk to people,” Paris said. “Usually we get more consent [to search] that way.”
About 85 percent of people give their consent to the police to search their rooms after being suspected or seen violating a drug law. The others demand a search warrant. Paris said it’s like playing a game and police officers are good at their job.
Finding drugs on campus is also in part due to having trained new police officers, security guards and Reslife staff members. Training included informing staff members of what to look for and which questions to ask students. In training, Paris said discussion included drug trends and paraphernalia such as grinders, whip it crackers, digital scales, pipes, bongs, needles, and how drugs gets packaged in baggies. Police can seize anything people use to store drugs in. Vehicles have been “forfeited” as people transported drugs in their car with the intent to deliver.
College students use prescription drugs to stay up studying. Paris said prescription drugs are a nationwide trend on university campuses. Piper can detect adderall. Students who are illegally in possession of the drug are removed from the University.
Other pharmaceutical drugs found on campus include oxycontin, oxycondone, percocet and suboxone [N8].
PCP was “big” two years ago. Cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy are coming back to WCU campus. Beginning in the fall 2010 semester, WCU college students have began using morphine to get high. Paris said people usually crush the pills to bypass the safety features of the drug in order to get high faster.
People are ripping off labels on medicine bottles; this is considered possession of drugs. Other people are putting their prescription drugs in baggies, which is also illegal. Pharmaceutical drugs have become a trend on college campuses as they are “easy to conceal” and “easy to get a hold of” when taking them from home.
“Once we see something [illegal],” Paris said, “We charge them.”
“Needing a correlation” Paris understands who is using personal marijuana verse dealing. People arrested for possession of an illegal substance can give up the dealer, Paris said. The district attorney would determine a deal in exchange for information.
Dealers take the money in exchange for marijuana in little baggies. Anyone arrested with the intent to deliver will have to forfeit any property that can be proved to have been used in setting up a drug deal. Arrestees may have their cell phones confiscated as evidence of making a drug deal. The cell phone is forfeited to the police department and later donated.
In other cases involving alcohol, students have tried putting vodka in water bottles. Paris recalls stopping students to ask what was in their water bottles. After having consent to smell the liquid, it was deemed to contain alcohol.
“The more knowledge you have, the more you pick up,” Paris said. Public Safety police officers and security guards patrol the residence halls on north campus. When Public Safety is “out and about” they “come across more [investigations] frequently.” In residence halls, Public Safety officers have a chance to interact with students.
Policing is about being proactive and reactive. Community policing allows for Public Safety officers to do so. These officers find trends on campus. Paris said it’s possible that “college kids set the trends.”
A new drug trend that college kids brought to campus is suboxone. Also known as N8, a drug that is claimed to be adhesive. Public Safety officers came across N8 and shared information about the drug with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area [HIDTA].
Along with trying to elimate drug trafficking, HIDTA aims to “reduce or eliminate the production, manufacture, transportation, distribution and chronic use of illegal drugs and money laundering.” [www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov]
HIDTA sees pounds of marijuana and handheld pipes while the campus police see blow tubes and other devices people make in order to smoke marijuana.
“Some of the stuff we come across, they’ve never seen before,” Paris said.
Blow tubes are made from an empty toilet paper roll and fabric softener tied to one end. Paris said that marijuana still has an odor wh
en people exhale. Fabric softener is used to hide the odor of the drug, however Paris and Piper can still detect the odor.
Public Safety officers understand that trends change on campus, and they train police officers, RAs [resident assistants] and RDs [resident directors] to be better adapted to situations they encounter involving drugs.
One change in trends is the location of drug use. Paris describes finding the location that college students use as a spot to use drugs as a “cat and mouse chase.” Some students smoke in their rooms, allowing officers to detect the odor.
At south campus, students leave their blinds open and illegal activities can be seen through the windows. Paris has seen students sitting in their living rooms in their south campus apartments, smoking from a pipe or bong. Others smoke in parking lots at south campus, or parks, some drive around and smoke. Paris said smokers call the park off of New Street, “little Jamaica.” Paris said after a while, students will decide to go off campus to smoke marijuana.
Officers look for, in plain sight, anything illegal or anything that violates the university code of conduct. In previous cases, cigar shavings and “dime bags” may be viewed in plain sight of a trash can.
“We’re pretty thorough in our investigations,” Paris said. “We don’t leave any rock unturned.”
Paris began as a part time police officer for Public Safety in 1998. In 2003 he become involved in drug investigations on WCU campus. In 2007, after discussing with the president of the university, to have a drug dog, Paris got approval. Paris was given Piper, the K-9 unit, in August of 2007. Paris is on call 24/7, taking any investigation involving drugs.
“I like it here [at WCU],” Paris said, “We see new trends.”
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.