911: There is No Emergency

Cartoon by Emma Hines

On the eve of his 21st birthday, Matthew Krauza, a 21-year-old communications major at SUNY New Paltz, and his housemate Ryan Hoffman threw a party. It was 11:45 p.m. on Friday and the festivities had died down, leaving a cluster of stragglers smoking by the front door and a handful of others inside dancing and chatting. As Hoffman looked up from his cigarette, he noticed two New Paltz Police officers stride past him, twist the knob on the front door and let themselves inside his eight-person home. Baffled, Hoffman rushed to grab Krauza and another housemate, then quickly ushered the officers to their car where they received three $75 tickets for the noise complaint. The officers made sure to wish Krauza a happy birthday. 

Out of all the fouls of a college party, having the police called to your house is easily the worst. The polite but stern rasp of the officer’s knuckles on the front door, paired with the unnerving blue and red flashes glowing through the window blinds, means the fun is over. In an area where town residents and students interact together so frequently, they are bound to butt heads from time to time. These disputes often stem from “coming-of-age” shenanigans that are more headaches than pressing problems, and students quickly realize how easy it can be to get in trouble with the law in adult life.  

Anyone who has attended SUNY New Paltz knows about the strict and efficient policing on campus and the town/village. With four agencies—the University Police, New Paltz Police, Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and State Police— sharing jurisdiction of New Paltz, the area is patrolled well. What’s unfortunate is that a sizeable amount of these arrests are really no more than non-violent nuisances, such as unlawful possession of marijuana, noise complaints and open alcohol containers. All three of these are arrestable offenses.  

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe these common and ususally harmless violations do not warrant arrest and that a different disciplinary path should be taken by the local government and New Paltz Police Department (NPPD). 

In 2015, Huffington Post published the “Drug on Campus” report from Project Know: an American addiction research organization. The report ranked SUNY New Paltz at number one for most drug arrests per 1,000 students in the entire country. There was a drastic increase in on-campus arrests from 2012 to 2013, jumping from 24 to 105 arrests. Similarly, local attorney and activist Celeste Tesoriero founded a “Stop the Arrests” petition in an effort to decriminalize these offenses which she calls “plainly unconstitutional.” According to statistics she drew from NPPD arrest logs, she noticed that marijuana, noise complaints and open container violations were among the most common. She calculated a total of 685 arrests linked to those offenses, and 1,167 overall that year with a population of 14,000 people. This means over half of the total arrests are caused by these petty crimes. We understand that the mission of our local police is to maintain peace and civility, however these arrests cause more problems than they provide solutions. 

 We at The Oracle believe that the NPPD should divert their resources towards other disturbances instead of these forgettable offenses. The consequences of any arrest go deeper than its court fee.

For many people, an arrest record of any kind can seriously damage one’s reputation and ability to find employment. These offenses would garner a misdemeanor charges, and while you’ll still be able to vote, you must disclose your arrest to employers at many jobs. Since many job opportunities are paperless and faceless, recruiters are labeled “criminals,” leading to numerous missed opportunities. Prospective teachers and federal employees are especially impacted by misdemeanor, and for doing something most people have done and will continue to do so long as the sun shines. Some people dismiss the protest by saying that most cases are dismissed with an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD), or people are given a warning first, but these answers carry their own complications. 

All of the leg work involved with the arrest process comes at a high cost from taxpayers. New Paltz Town Supervisor Don Kerr claims that processing an ACD takes roughly an hour of professional time, omitting pay for court employees and police time, making it an unnecessary expenditure. ACDs allow the court to dismiss someone’s charges under the condition that they do not conduct additional criminal activity in a set period of time. The amount of time and money allocated toward this process, multiplied by the total of arrests that occur, becomes a big burden to residents’ money supply. With all the competition for ticketing in the town, we understand that decriminalizing these offenses could take a financial toll on the NPPD. While we don’t want to see any officer lose their jobs, we don’t feel that it should come at an extra cost to the people they are meant to protect and serve. 

We believe that the legal gray area surrounding how these minor offenses are dealt with reveals an imbalance of power between the police and the residents of New Paltz. Eliminating this ambiguity will serve to strengthen relations between law enforcement and the people they protect.

This being said, we are very lucky to live in such a safe community and we would like to thank our police force for the role they play in keeping everyone safe.  We recognize that the town and village are not playgrounds to indulge in degeneracy, and students must be cognizant of people who have families and livelihoods here. While we acknowledge that there is certainly an imbalance of power due to unclear legal specifications in dealing with these types of arrests, students can at least use the full extent of their power in the relationship by taking initiative to learn both their rights in police encounters and the local laws which they are beholden to.

Cutting down the harsh policing of these crimes would foster a friendly relationship between the department and the student population. For many years, New Paltz has been considered a party town, which can be a bad image for business of potential residents. While we appreciate the police’s work in upholding and improving the image of our community, we feel that these arrests are unnecessary and damaging to the people. Many students don’t have jobs or enough money to pay for tickets, which adds another burden to their busy lives. If they are charged, their record will forever be marred when applying to graduate school or jobs, giving them a severe handicap for bettering themselves in the future. In the grand scheme, these offenses are a blip on the radar and something most people experience at some point in their lives. 

We strongly urge both students and our local police force to remember that we are not here to be a burden for nine months out the year. We are here to pursue education, vote in local elections, learn to be an adult and be an active participants in this community being such a large portion of the town and village population.