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SGO works to find answers to police presence

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Police activity on campus has been an issue of salience amongst students since the beginning of the semester, as reported in a previous Phoenix article that relayed their presence. This stemmed from a notable series of incidents in which Swarthmore Borough Police were called to campus. The results of such activity have included the shutting down of parties and, more seriously, the arrest of a junior the night of Sept. 17.  

Much of the speculation about police involvement ties into the general confusion felt by students about what warrants the presence of Swarthmore Borough Police and the apparent frequency of their visits. Coleman Powell ’20 was unsure about the severity of other student claims.

“I hear a lot from upperclassmen that there has been an increase. But, I personally don’t notice it. It might just be because I was fairly used to police interference at party scenes in high school because it happened all the time. But, it’s probably because I’m only a freshman that I don’t notice it,” Powell said,

Clare Perez ’18, the Chair of Student Life Policy in Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization, notes that there has indeed been a difference in presence of police on campus from previous years.

“Police are never on campus. My freshman and sophomore year, I never saw them. We don’t usually get noise complaints because there aren’t really neighbors close to campus party spaces. So you never saw police here that often,” she said.

To dispel some of this speculation, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill reiterated the point that police presence is not without reason.

“We rely on a partnership with the Swarthmore Borough Police to assure the safety of the campus and members of our community. Through established protocols, when a “911” call results in response from Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), the Swarthmore Fire Department or any other municipal service, the Swarthmore Police accompanies them.”

Roman Shemakov ’20, an SGO Senator for the class of 2020 (full disclosure: Shemakov is a photographer for the Phoenix but had no involvement in the production of this article), asserted that their presence should not be looked upon as unusual.

“People are distraught and mostly confused, but I think it’s important to understand that it is within the police’s purview to come to the campus whenever they need to. It’s not something that you can stop from happening because it’s well within the law,” Shemakov said.

In addition to heightened police presence, students are reporting that the actions of Public Safety are felt to be stricter now than in previous years. As stated on their website, the main function of Public Safety is to enforce college policies and regulations, as well as provide any assistance necessary to protect the wellbeing of Swarthmore’s students. In relation to party antics on campus, a great deal of general consensus amongst students is that Public Safety does not act firmly, as Perez explains.

“It seems like every year it gets a little bit stricter, though I feel like Public Safety’s presence has been more this year than it ever has been. They’ve been shutting down more parties than they ever did. I remember my freshman year they literally did nothing. Last year, they didn’t really do anything either,” said Perez.

Shemakov recalled instances that he had witnessed actions made by Public Safety that did not follow the status quo.

“I live in DK and last weekend, there was a party there. Police came and broke it up, and they took away all of the hard alcohol that was visible which is something new. And then the same thing happened…actual police went to Worth the night of Halloween, and Public Safety came to DK to take away the alcohol,” said Shemakov.

On-campus confusion centers on the heightened level of action taken by both Swarthmore Borough Police and Public Safety. SGO, as Perez explains, does not have any solid answers or explanation for what is going on, mainly because of the lack of willingness from administration to discuss the issue. In attempting to reach out to Hill, Perez was met with unprecedented obstacles in communication where he would not respond to her multiple requests to meet.

“I asked him if he would have any time in the next semester to meet with me to discuss if there was any policy change that caused the police to be on campus, [ask] what is protocol, and just express to him concern by the student body about their presence on campus and he did not get back to me. If administration isn’t willing to work with us and discuss issues like this, how are we supposed to relay anything to the student body and get anything done?” she said.

According to Shemakov, SGO is largely in the dark.

“We just don’t know. A lot of these things are done within the administration itself. There’s not a lot direct student-to-police conversation, it goes through a different channel. Nobody knows anything,” he said.

Both Perez and Shemakov have their guesses for the increased police presence, ranging from the increased number of student hospitalizations, a rambunctious first-year class, to repercussion from the Spring of Discontent, a colloquialism for the group of events in the spring of 2013 including reports of sexual assault and the opening of a Title IX investigation. None of these, however, have been confirmed. Hill maintained that there is a simpler answer to this question.

“There has been no change in policy or practice.  The police have been responding to calls and the number of calls has increased,” he said.

In terms of plans moving forward, Perez asserted that meetings are in the works.

“I have a Dean’s Advisory Council meeting coming on this coming Tuesday and police on campus is on my list of things to bring up. Also, this is the first one of the year, which is frustrating: the first meeting shouldn’t be happening in the middle of November, it should’ve happened in the beginning of the semester,” said Perez.

Shemakov stated that though there is a lull in flow of information between SGO and administration, they were not going to halt their efforts in trying to break through to them.

“I know that Ben and Mosea [SGO Co-Presidents] were planning on having a meeting with Val Smith about this and getting some answers, but that is coming through them.” Shemakov said.

Both Roebuck and Esias were contacted for comment, but the Phoenix received no response.

Perez added to the sentiment of unrelenting effort from SGO.

“I just want to stress that this is an issue that is important to me and important to SGO.  Like I said, we tried. We didn’t get any response from both Mike Hill and the deans about it, which I plan on talking about at my meeting…I hope that in voicing this to the deans, they can do something about it,” she said.

Hill stressed for students to not keep any concerns to themselves..

“Most public safety and police officers endeavor to be respectful and courteous, and they expect the same from members of our community. However, if anyone on this campus believes an individual officer’s behavior is inappropriate, disrespectful, or inflammatory itself, they should feel free to contact me or the Chief of Police immediately. Ultimately, we all share the goal of protecting and safeguarding each and every member of the community, and doing so with cooperation, dignity, and respect,” he said.

As the the semester draws closer to its end, it remains to be seen if police presence will indeed dial down. Members of SGO continue to seek answers from administration so as to work towards dispelling confusion amongst students. All told, SGO wishes that the avenues of communication would open in order for them to succeed and, in the interest of the student population, lead to a conclusive answer.

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