It's About Common Sense
In September of 2000, I sat in the auditorium of the New York City Police Academy with about 500 other fresh faced rookie cops. After seven and a half months of training, we were only about three weeks from graduating.
The class would be hitting the streets at which time, undoubtedly, the precinct commanders would utilize these fledgling officers to generate a large portion of their measurable activity. This has been the way of things for some time in the NYPD -- new officers are given high demands for summonses and arrests because it is both part of their training and their probationary status dictates increased compliance with the general directives of their supervisors. Precinct Commanders love rookie cops. By leaning on them to churn out summonses and arrests, a Commanding Officer can make himself look good in the eyes of the Department hierarchy.
It was this general policy that was the topic of a stirring lecture in that auditorium eight years ago. However, the presentation was not delivered by the Police Academy staff. All instructors and supervisors had quietly left the room knowing in advance the content of the lecture we were about to receive -- an action which was actually a silent affirmation of the upcoming message. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (the union) was there to address us and one particularly large and portly veteran delegate took the stage.
"I’m here today to talk to you, because at this point everybody in this room has made it through the academy and will be graduating," his voice boomed. "In three weeks, you will be out on the streets ... no more silly gray academy uniform, you will be wearing blue, and with this transition comes an increased responsibility.
"In your actions you will be representing the City of New York, the Department, and your fellow Officers. Particularly, as rookies, there will be a lot asked of you. You are going to be asked to write a lot of summonses and make a lot of arrests. Because of this demand, and because you will now be representing your fellow officers, I came here today to talk to you and teach you the Secret of Law Enforcement.
"It’s simple: It’s about common sense.
"Go out there and write your summonses and make your arrests, but dammit, be smart about it. For better or for worse, the public will associate your actions with not just yourself, but every other cop on this job. One of you screwing up makes the rest of us look bad!
"When you are out there generating your activity, realize that your most powerful tool for public relations is your discretion. You did not come here to be revenue generators or nannies; you came here to be cops. Remember this when targeting your enforcement.
"A good cop does not take the easy road and enforce every violation he sees. Rather, a good cop takes action when he thinks his action will make a positive impact on this city. I’m telling you that there are a lot of good people in this city and you're not there to make their lives more difficult. It’s about common sense.
"Don’t go and write easy parking tickets to the truck drivers, deliverymen, and the contractors who try to do business in the city. They are the working men who make this city move and they deserve better.
"Don’t go and pull a guy or woman over in their car and write them a moving violation when their kids are in the car with them. Parents are heroes in their kids’ eyes, and you are not there to tear them down with a lousy ticket.
"Don’t target the expensive car because you figure the owner can afford to pay a fine. There is a good chance that owner worked very hard for that nice car and he does not deserve to be punished because of it.
"Do find that group of drug dealers on the corner and be merciless with your enforcement. Hit them with every violation you can apply and take back that corner.”
The PBA delegate went on to discuss various “do's and don’ts” that seemed so plainly obvious to so many of us, yet are often forgotten by law enforcement agents that are overly focused on generating activity. It was (and still is) the concern of the PBA that police officers who do not utilize appropriate discretion in their enforcement duties can alienate a portion of the public whose support we could otherwise depend on. Correcting a condition and problem solving need not always be accomplished by the issuance of summonses.
The delegate concluded, “You are now Police Officers in the NYPD, and if your authority is challenged, no matter who it is, you better take charge of the situation and do what needs to be done. We don’t get pushed around. However, keep in mind, we are there to protect and serve the public, not preside over them. We need to respect the good people in this city and by doing so they will return that respect to us. You can do this by getting out there, working hard, generating good summons and arrest activity, and using your discretion. You can make this city a better place by being a good cop. A good cop enforces, but wisely. It’s really not hard. It’s about common sense.”
I have never forgotten the message that was delivered to us in the Academy auditorium that day. I have done my best to both abide by the “do’s and don’ts” and to encourage the young police officers I supervise to operate in a similar fashion. To be honest, I think I probably would have done the same had I never even heard the lecture the PBA delegate delivered eight years ago. It seems a basic fundamental that should be instinctive to anyone interested in being an effective cop: Successful policing requires that in all initiatives a common sense balance must be found between enforcement and the application of discretion. Too little of the former will lead to an increase in crime or unwanted conditions. A lack of the latter will create a resentful public. It is the goal of community policing to strive to achieve this equilibrium.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a current lack of common sense at Notre Dame. A flood of complaints expressed on the ND Nation forums concerning both policy and enforcement justifies this assessment. Although I am quite sure that certain testimonials are tainted with exaggeration, the sheer volume of chronicles detailing negative interactions with authorities and their relative increase should be cause for serious concern.
Dismissing these accounts as mere histrionics is inappropriate and irresponsible. There is a building resentment. The alumni, students, and subway alums have too often become the target of strict and costly enforcement championed by the Administration and various supporting law enforcement agencies. Finding a solution requires understanding the root cause of the problem.
How did we reach this tipping point? What is driving the creation of strict policy and the accompanying “zero tolerance” enforcement? It has been suggested by members of these forums that the underlying rationale was born out of the desire for revenue generation or fear that in today’s litigious society the University is at financial risk without such a draconian strategy. Although these may be ancillary motivations for the tactics employed, finding the root cause requires examining a series of events that occurred in 2002.
At that time, Father Malloy was still actively involved in the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He was appointed to this government committee by President George H.W. Bush and was co-chair of the subcommittee responsible for publishing an extensive report calling for a call to action to curb college drinking in April of 2002.
The timing of the NIAAA’s report was unfortunate, however. In late March of 2002, Harvard’s School of Public health released the findings of an eight-year study that identified a rise in binge drinking and particularly noted that institutions structured like Notre Dame were prone to increased alcohol abuse. The Harvard study received media attention prior to the release of the NIAAA’s call to action and resulted in a sense of embarrassment for certain Notre Dame officials. It seemed contradictory that the University’s figurehead was a key member of a committee espousing one course of action, while (according to Harvard) the institution actually operated in a quite different manner. With the release of the NIAAA report, the policy at Notre Dame was rewritten and the drastic and immediate measures taken were well documented.
It was at this point where a more puritanical approach to alcohol consumption was employed. Certain key members of the administration were tasked with implementing policy, and they used every available resource at their disposal to do so. This has been the trend in effect from April of 2002 to present day.
The results and the impact on student life are debatable. Although the University effectively and drastically reduced on-campus binge drinking, a consequence of such action was that students increasingly turned to off-campus venues for social interaction. This has resulted in students being placed in undesirable situations.
Most recently over 40 students were arrested for a variety of petty violations during a raid on a house party by the Indiana Excise Police. There have been numerous reports of students falling victim to robberies as they venture off campus- even a 2003 robbery in which students were held at gunpoint by perpetrators armed with automatic weapons. Also in early 2003 was the tragic incident in which a young freshman who had ventured off campus for a social function was found dead in a nearby river. One can only wonder how many of the cited examples could have been avoided if a more liberal alcohol policy encouraging on-campus socializing had still been in place.
If the impact and results of the revised alcohol policy on student life can be considered debatable, the results of these guidelines on the Notre Dame Football experience can be considered unacceptable. There is a substantial difference. Those students affected by this trend have chosen to attend the school and by doing so elected to abide by the principles outlined in DuLac. The current alcohol policy may be poorly contrived, but all prospective students are now well aware of the high expectations placed upon them and the relative social inadequacies of current day campus existence. Whether or not the vigorous enforcement of the alcohol policy is sound decision making by the administration, the University hierarchy has the absolute right to impose its restrictions on those that choose to dwell there for four years. This same absolute right does not translate into license for authorities to “preside” over those that flock to South Bend to see a football game. Fall football Saturdays are singular social events that draw in a diverse national fan base who are by and large upstanding and established community members (alumni, families, working people, professionals, etc).
The obscene amount of enforcement for minor alcohol related violations committed on game day in the stadium and parking lot facility is analogous to embarking on a course of action that the PBA delegate warned us rookies of years ago -- don’t make the lives of the good people more difficult. Those who attend Notre Dame football games are good people and they deserve to be treated with dignity. There are now numerous examples in these forums of a failure to do so by the various agencies tasked with enforcement, especially the Indiana Excise Police. What remains infuriating about the path the University has chosen to follow is not just that it is bad policy, it is the arrogance employed.
The administration has allowed the Excise Police to take the lead in these enforcement efforts. Representatives of this agency never seemed to have been privy to an appropriate tailoring of the “Do’s and Don’ts” lecture. They apparently need to hear it. Such samples to be included in this instruction might include:
- Don’t ticket at 20 year old student and his father who are enjoying a beer and a burger together. The young adult is already supervised and the moment does not require police presence to make it special.
- Don’t be demanding and aggressive if you need to see an ID. You’re at Notre Dame and courtesy is a mandate.
- Do conduct enforcement at student tailgaters and on large groups of students drinking in the parking lot. People over 30 will appreciate this because we would prefer to enjoy a pleasant tailgate without the awkwardness of being next to groups of drunk and rowdy 17 and 18 year olds.
- Don’t be so quick to handcuff people and remove them to jail. Good people need not be exposed to this (especially students). Utilize summonses instead.
- Don’t continue with the videotaping of people and license plates. It’s creepy and unnecessary for such minor violations. Save that kind of tactic for mass protests and riots, not football tailgaters.
Sadly, it would be doubtful that such a speech would even be effective given the mission of the agency. A more appropriate moniker for such individuals would be the “Indiana State Excise Code Enforcement”, because as my Captain is fond of saying, “There are those who might be in law enforcement, but they ain’t the POLICE.” This designation should rightly be reserved for those who handle themselves in a more honorable fashion than is being reported. It is hard to rationalize why their very presence is being permitted given the bad publicity they are generating.
The Excise Police are obviously not alone in needing a “do’s and don’ts” speech. The NDSP and Stadium Ushers need to improve their relationship with the game day patrons. At their core, these are both honorable groups of people and are a valuable part of the Notre Dame family. However, the administration’s policies and drive for total enforcement are straining the relations between these groups and the community they serve. The examples recently posted of bad encounters have been difficult to swallow.
There must be an immediate cessation of sending people to jail for public intoxication without good cause. Public intoxication was removed from the law books as a violation in New York and many other states. It seems odd that there would be such fervent (yet seemingly random) enforcement of a violation whose status is so inconsistent nationwide. Violence and disorder can not be tolerated, but can not be confused with enthusiasm and exuberance. This seems to be happening all too often. Additionally, an individual who is incapacitated from intoxication should be removed to a hospital, not a holding pen. This is simple and sound law enforcement.
It is a shame that in recent years so many members of the Notre Dame family have become the targets of a questionable enforcement initiative. The alcohol policy as it pertains to Saturday needs examining and immediate revision. The ND game day experience is already an expensive one. Why make it more costly for the attendees with mounting fines, incarceration, and ill will? These are the good people of the world. They are the donors, the tuition payers, the graduates, the loyal fans, and the faithful. They deserve a safe and comfortable tailgating/stadium environment without the burden of total and excessive enforcement. There will always be summonses and arrests, but such action need only be taken when a positive result for the Notre Dame community seems a guarantee.
Employing discretion and better problem solving techniques is not a hard thing to implement. It’s about common sense.