Dealing with the New Borough Policy: A Student Perspective

By George Maliha ’13

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently announced that all calls received from the Street—including those related to alcohol—would be reported to the Princeton Borough Police, which would presumably be expected to respond as well. While the eating clubs, as private property distinctly separate from the University, properly fall under the Borough’s jurisdiction, the suddenness of the policy change remains puzzling. Although DPS’s Deputy Director Charles Duvall explained in an email to the Tory that “[t]here really has been no substantive change to Public Safety’s response or a policy change,” one would expect that a shift in position—especially one that involves alcohol—would be undertaken only after consultation with and consideration by the University administration, leadership of eating clubs, and student body representatives.

Indeed, the Alcohol Coalition Committee was founded over three years ago to promote this type of dialogue. However, the rapid change has taken many by surprise. For instance, Borough Police Department Captain Nicholas Sutter was not aware of the change when interviewed by the Daily Princetonian earlier this year. Students, outside of eating club leadership, were also particularly taken aback with the new policy.

These sudden developments have fueled an onslaught of speculation. The Borough may have asserted that it always had the right to receive notification of and respond to calls from the Street, but considering Captain Sutter’s surprise when interviewed about the policy, this explanation seems unlikely. On the other hand, in Fall 2000, Spring 2001, and again in 2008, the Borough Council considered an ordinance to enforce liquor laws on private property, which would essentially make underage drinking illegal on the Street (currently, law enforcement cannot attempt to observe or arrest underage individuals for drinking on private property—only on public property).

Whatever the root cause of the Borough’s added role in responding to calls from Prospect Avenue, it is clear that this policy is here to stay. Thus, it is essential to manage the change so that students are not endangered. To this end, we must work to reduce the hype in response to this change, since avoiding calls to Public Safety in “fear” of the Borough Police is reckless and juvenile.

It is important to stress that a great majority of Public Safety calls are not for alcohol poisoning or excessive inebriation. According to Aaron Smargon ‘11, former Kitchen Manager in Charter Club and the Tory’s former Publisher, most calls are from late-night injuries— falling over, tripping, etc. —and not for a life-threatening condition. Smargon also stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the current leadership of Charter, but “as an individual who experienced the eating clubs and continues to experience [them].” Nonetheless, with the policy, which he described as made in “poor taste,” Smargon fears that individuals may be reluctant to make these relatively benign calls seeking help for themselves or a fellow student.

It is important to understand that although alcohol related calls will now result in Borough Police referrals, Section 4-15.1 of the Borough code prevents individuals from being cited for underage drinking on private property (the Borough only bans drinking on public property or areas for public assembly). There is no need for someone to limp to McCosh Health Center—and potentially cause more injury.

In the cases in which alcohol is involved, Smargon acknowledges that Princeton students will generally call for help when it is obvious that someone is in trouble. However, he worries about the ambiguous cases—in which a person is not visibly in distress but requires medical attention—as the time when hesitation might be costly. With the new policy, students might be hesitant to call for help when it is not obvious (to medically untrained individuals) if any is actually needed.

This dilemma was precisely the situation New Jersey’s Good Samaritan Law was supposed to counteract. According to the law, students will not be penalized for obtaining aid for a distressed, intoxicated student and are protected from prosecution. No one need be injured—even if alcohol is involved. Public Safety’s own reports indicate the low risk of placing a lifesaving call; the last Princeton student arrested in a liquor-related offense located at a non-campus building, was in 2008 (according to the 2010 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report).

With these laws and policies in place, a call to public safety for any concern—alcohol-related or otherwise—should never be avoided for fear of reprisal or an investigation—in short, better safe than sorry.

Nonetheless, the eating clubs have begun to take further action to ensure the safety of the student body. Several clubs, such as Charter, have increased their pool of “designated officers”—individuals available to assist students on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with any problems that should arise. Other, non-disclosed measures have also been undertaken to fully mitigate whatever effects this change in policy might have.

The eating clubs form an important part of many Princeton students’ college experience. They provide an excellent place to socialize, to meet new friends, and to strengthen old bonds of friendship in addition to providing a place for upperclassmen to eat. It is essential for all stakeholders, from administration to students to ensure that they remain safe.

University President Shirley Tilghman has constantly stressed that one of her greatest fears is receiving a call in the middle of the night informing her that a member of the student body has died from an alcohol overdose. It is one of our worst fears as well. We need not allow Borough referrals jeopardize the safety of any individual in this community. Current laws and a few simple measures undertaken by the eating clubs can make this shift—although sudden—relatively innocuous.

George Maliha is a sophomore majoring in molecular biology from Amarillo, TX. He can be reached at gmaliha@princeton.edu.

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