Before Thanksgiving break, The Oracle published an article reporting disciplinary action taken against several New Paltz campus police officers. The officers were disciplined earlier this year after the state investigated complaints that they fell asleep on the job and falsified time sheets. The nature of disciplinary action taken by the administration was not specified in any reports, nor was the number of officers who received such action. Upon asking College President Donald P. Christian and University Police (UPD) Chief David Dugatkin for comment, the two had declined to answer any questions regarding the matter, deferring to their inability to speak on personnel issues. However, in a pre-scheduled interview with The Oracle, Christian had reiterated the administration’s commitment to public safety on campus.
The administration’s failure to properly address the issue of student safety following reports of improper procedure by campus law enforcement is indicative of a larger issue. The College lacks a level of transparency with the people who put money in its pocket. President Christian and the administration have, in the past, declined to speak on several pressing issues for the campus community. Whether it is faculty policy or not, is it right to withhold information from students and staff alike who have put their faith in the College to adequately protect them and serve their best interest? The administration has had countless opportunities to be forthcoming with its errors aside from this most recent occurrence, including last March when an aggressive “informational campaign” was launched by the New York State Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the union that represents the campus officers. It is a long-held legal truth that hiding behind “personnel matters” is not a reason to withhold information regarding the discipline of public employees and their termination — especially when illegal activity, such as the falsification of timesheets is involved.
We at The New Paltz Oracle believe students deserve more of an explanation regarding these dishonest officers. Even after the article was published, the administration remained silent on the matter. We believe now that the information is out there and students can find out what was reported, the administration and UPD ought to come out with a statement regarding the “disciplinary action” taken against these officers, so that students can be sure that the campus is adequately patrolled, and as safe as the administration touts it to be. In today’s world of sexual assault awareness, it is evident that many crimes, especially sexual assaults, go unreported. With no information on if these officers were fired or how many of them were found sleeping on the job and falsifying time sheets, it can be projected that even more unreported cases occur due to negligence on the part of UPD. However, student concerns over effective and conducive policing have been growing prior to reports of the sleeping officers. Students have protested the College resiliently on it’s two-strike marijuana policy, saying that it is a misallocation of both UPD and the College’s resources.
In 2013, the College’s policy landed the College the No. 1 spot for drug arrests on ProjectKnow’s national “Drugs on Campus” report for colleges with over 5,000 students. There were 105 on-campus drug arrests in 2013, averaging 13.9 arrests per 1,000 students. This was a drastic increase from a total of 24 on-campus drug arrests in 2012. The College has called attention to this statistic, noting it as sign of their attentive policing of drug use. We at The New Paltz Oracle, however, view this as a misdirected focus and poor judgement on the part of the College. The marijuana policy on campus has continued to come down harshly on students and draws the attention of officers away from potential violent crimes and sexual assault.
We at The New Paltz Oracle simply ask for transparency from the administration regarding our safety. We also ask that the College consider the concerns of its students and open channels for community discussion. The safety and wellbeing of the College, its campus and the community ought not be brought into question by a lack of communication and misdirected focus. On a campus that touts itself as particularly safe, the people expressing that sentiment should be forthcoming in their lapses in proper policing.