UTPD needs to decrease drug arrests, increase referrals

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Photo Credit: Mel Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Drug use is common among students — in a survey, 19.9% of UT students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. 

A recent security and fire safety report published data showing an increase in drug arrests on campus — from 40 in 2016 to 64 in 2018. We’ve equated campus discipline to criminal discipline and consequently have made this campus — already rife with sexual predators and hazing — less of a safe space. 

UT should take action to reverse this trend and increase the rate of drug referrals as opposed to arrests. Students should instead be pointed to resources such as the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s alcohol and drug counseling services.

On Sept. 6, 2011, a UTPD officer discovered three UT students smoking marijuana in Brazos Garage and initiated further investigation. One student received a court citation for possession of the drug and paraphernalia in addition to a referral to the Dean of Students. Cases like these have increased over the past three years. 

If you don’t see a problem with this, I’ll break it down for you: About 22% of full-time college students engage in illicit drug use — this is approximately 9,000 undergraduates at UT. According to a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse survey, a few reasons students use drugs include stress relief, pressure to have sex and as an escape from trying situations. One can conclude that certain groups — women and those forced to contend with stressful circumstances — are more affected by drug use. When UTPD takes students’ mistakes to court, they are piling on the debilitating stress. 

If UT claims to look after the best interests of its students, the institution needs to re-evaluate their methods of handling drug abuse. 

Philosophy and sociology senior James Lee is the co-president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at UT. He is familiar with the report findings.

“Honestly the report is a little unclear — it doesn’t give details about the specific contexts of those arrests, and I’m working on getting more information about that,” he said. “But I think the rise in arrests is concerning because a sensible drug policy at a university aims to help students, and this doesn’t.” 

Lee is a firm believer in rehabilitation efforts as opposed to corrective ones. 

“Countless studies and surveys show that harsh punishment doesn’t actually help the individual,” Lee said.  “We as a society and a university need to focus our efforts on helping drug users address the factors in their lives that are pushing them to these decisions.” 

According to Chief of Staff Don Verett, UTPD has an agreement with local justice of the peace where they can exceptionally clear minor misdemeanor charges like possession of marijuana, as long as the student is referred to the Dean of Students Office for campus-contained disciplinary action. 

“Honesty is the best policy,” Verett said. “Always comply with the officer, and that’s the best way to avoid further consequences. Most of our officers have been to college, so we understand the make-up of the community that we police, and we want to be part of community care-taking function, not just law enforcement.”

This, however, does not change the data. UTPD has been arresting drug offenders at a higher rate in the past three years, creating an unsafe environment for students that will not necessarily deter them from using drugs. UTPD needs to stop making these arrests, and refer the offenders to counseling and recovery resources that can actually help them reform. 

Dronamraju is a public health sophomore from Dallas.