Spike in on-campus students may have caused increase in drug, alcohol referrals

The increase in drug and alcohol referrals was likely due to the increase in students on campus after Gladding Residence Center reopened, according to VCU Police spokesperson Corey Byers. Photo by Jon Mirador

Hannah Eason, News Editor

What started as a party in his Rhoads dorm room ended with the cops banging on his door because of a noise complaint. After telling an officer that he drank one beer, Brian was given a court summons and a student conduct referral.

Brian, who asked to remain anonymous to speak openly about his experience, was charged with drinking underage in a dorm during his freshman year.

“I was told that if I had one more mess up, then I would have been kicked out at VCU,” said Brian, who was on VCU probation for a year and was “hesitant to go out afterward.”

The number of student referrals for drug and alcohol offenses increased between 2017 and 2018 while arrests went down, according to the VCU Annual Security Report released earlier this semester.

Liquor law referrals went up slightly on campus and in residential facilities. On Monroe Park campus, there was an increase from 97 to 118 referrals on campus, and all but one were in residential facilities. Drug abuse referrals had a larger increase, from 44 on campus in 2017 to 111 on campus in 2018. Almost all occurred in residential facilities.

Brian, who is a junior psychology major, said he was more angry at himself throughout the process than anything. He remembered his dad telling him, “you better not make all this tuition money be for nothing.”

“Being put on probation really didn’t hit home like my dad telling me to not like mess this shit up,” Brian said.

Police do not process student referrals, but every student who is arrested goes through a conduct process through the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. A liquor law arrest is considered any possession of an open container of alcohol, underage possession of alcohol or possession of alcohol by an interdicted person. Under Virginia statue, an interdicted person is one who is considered to be a “habitual drunkard.”

Drug abuse arrests, which include citations for paraphernalia, went down on campus and on public property but increased slightly in residential housing.

In 2018, out of 165 drug abuse arrests, 88 were on campus. Of those 88 arrests, 75 were in on-campus housing. When GRC Phases I and II reopened in August 2018, the number of on-campus, first-year students increased by almost 1,500.

“We’re kind of looking at GRC reopening, increasing that population of on-campus students,” said VCU police spokeswoman Corey Byers. “So we believe that that is what that number is tied to.”

Byers said the numbers are not double counted, and if a student receives an arrest and a referral, they would only be counted as an arrest in the crime report numbers.

VCU has a zero-tolerance policy against alcohol, which VCU Police Captain Jonathan Siok says is largely to prevent sexual assault and alcohol poisoning.

“It’s not because we want to come out here and arrest students or anything like that,” Siok said. “Honestly, most of our officers don’t want to do that anyway. We know that it can affect their academic career.”

VCU Police operates in concurrent jurisdiction with Richmond Police, which means both forces can make arrests on campus.

“Since we have such a great relationship with the city, a lot of times when they come in contact with a student, they call us,” Siok said. “Now that’s not just in our jurisdiction, but maybe outside just a little bit since we’ve expanded our jurisdiction, into more of an internal jurisdiction.”

Karen Belanger, director of student conduct and academic integrity, said much of the student conduct process is meant to be educational.

“Disciplinary probation at the university is very different than criminal probation,” Belanger said. “We’re not applying supervision to the probation, we’re not applying drug testing to probation. It’s not monitored in the same way the courts may with a student.”

Student Conduct decides punishments — which can range from censure to expulsion — on a case by case basis. Belanger says when dealing with drugs and alcohol, this can include variables like quantity, behavior at the time of arrest, the type of drug and if there was an intent to distribute.

“Students are entitled to due process. So just because somebody is documented in a report either by a staff member or the university police doesn’t necessarily mean that they violated the policy,” Belanger said. “So we don’t go into the conversation assuming that they have.”

On the MCV campus, liquor law arrests and referrals saw almost no change. In 2018, there were fewer than 10 liquor law arrests and referrals combined.

There were six drug abuse referrals at MCV in 2018, all of which occurred in residential facilities. There was a decrease in drug abuse arrests between 2017 and 2018, from 90 to 59, including arrests in MCV hospitals.

Numbers listed in the VCU Annual Crime Report do not include public intoxication or DUIs.

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