Swarthmore Police can listen in on Pub Safe walkie-talkies

As dry week came to an end on Saturday, September 3rd, party spaces at Delta Upsilon (DU) and Paces were opened. By the end of the night, Paces was closed voluntarily and DU was closed through the intervention of the Swarthmore Borough Police Department. Swarthmore police arrived on campus after listening to both the radio frequencies of public safety and receiving emergency calls. By the end of the night, officers issued two citations for underage drinking.

The two citations were issued to students that Chief of the Swarthmore Borough Police Brian Craig termed “grossly intoxicated.” He further detailed the role police played on the first parties of the year.

“In every instance last weekend, we were responding to something,” he said. “One call was a person requiring medical attention. The other instances we monitored Swarthmore College’s Public Safety radio band just like we do for other police departments in the area. The officer heard people, for lack of a better term, screaming for help and responded to those requests for assistance.”

At around 12:30 a.m., Swarthmore Police arrived on campus and talked to a member of DU. This came after police monitored public safety radio frequencies and learned that both severely ill students had come from the party at the fraternity house. During this time, SwatTeam had requested for more help at the entryway of DU due to overcapacity issues. At the suggestion of police, the fraternity decided to shut down the party. The party space at Paces was closed down voluntarily, without police intervention, after the shutdown of DU in an attempt to prevent partygoers from getting cited by police.

When Public Safety interacts with SwatTeam or other individuals over radio, the Swarthmore Police can listen in. This power can even extend to tuning in to SwatTeam members’ communication on handheld radios issued by public safety, provided that the radios operate on the same frequency as Public Safety radios. Director of Public Safety Michael J. Hill explained that SwatTeam’s radios are generally on a different frequency than Public Safety’s. In the case of an emergency, a SwatTeam member must manually change frequencies to talk to a Public Safety officer. It remains unclear how much communication Swarthmore Police could have heard between SwatTeam and Public Safety on the night of September 3rd.

Chief Craig explained that the police listen to Public Safety’s radio frequency to cut down the time it takes for public safety to contact the police in the case of an emergency. When Public Safety needs to contact the police, they can only do so through calling 911. The ability for the police to listen directly to public safety’s radio frequency mitigates this delay.

While Swarthmore Police can enter the campus at any time, Chief Craig repeatedly stressed that the police are not primarily concerned with underage drinking when they go on patrol around campus. He referenced the very small number of citations issued to students for underage drinking, relative to other schools. He also mentioned the department’s diversionary program that clears away a citation given a completed amount of community service and alcohol education classes.

“People throwing parties have very specific responsibilities. If they met those responsibilities, you’d never see us,” he said. “We routinely patrol the campus but do not target the campus. The citations were confined to the most obvious violations.”

The involvement of police on the first Saturday of the year surprised Rose Ridder ’19, a SwatTeam manager working at DU that night.

“To me, it was a surprise when the police showed up because there hadn’t been much police interaction last semester. I only started managing January of last year and for the days I’ve managed we haven’t had the police on campus shutting down a party,” she shared. “Of course, the first parties of the year are the most dangerous and that has science and statistics behind it. I think it’s kind of expected that the police knew to look out for it. I guess they were more attentive to parties that weekend.”

On the subject of whether there will be increased involvement of the police on campus, both Swarthmore Police and campus Public Safety are in agreement. Chief Craig said that the Swarthmore Police have neither the resources nor the desire to assign an officer to the campus. Furthermore, Craig emphasized that if activities are held responsibly within the confines of Pennsylvania law, police involvement is not necessary. Hill believed that police presence on campus has been pretty consistent over time, and he does not foresee that changing.

Ganesh Setty

Ganesh studies economics & art history, and hopes to be a financial journalist one day. He enjoys reading non-fiction, running, tennis, and collecting gray shirts. Seriously. He has a lot.

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