Binghamton University’s 2019 Annual Security and Fire Report was released last spring and showcased an increase in numbers of drug referrals, a write-up of a student who has violated the Student Code of Conduct, and drug arrests.
From 2016 to 2017, drug arrests almost doubled. In 2016, the total drug arrests on and off campus was 56 and in the following year, it rose to 103. From 2017 to 2018, drug referrals increased from 197 to 345. Alcohol referrals fluctuated from 246 in 2016 to 164 in 2017 to 352 in 2018. Investigator Mark Silverio of Binghamton’s New York State University Police Department (UPD) could not pinpoint why arrests increased, but referenced the hiring of new police officers to be a possible factor.
“If I had to take an educated guess, we had to hire new people,” Silverio said. “So there’s a lot of newer officers out there and when they’re training [for] the lower level crime stuff, things that would normally just kind of get a warning, they’ll go through the process of an arrest and, if it’s a simple one, it’s just an appearance ticket, so that the newer officers can … understand and learn their job. I mean, I know we hired a bunch of people through those years, [so] that might be it. I don’t know that that’s why.”
As for the referrals, Silverio said that UPD officers do not issue referrals very often unless it is a specific situation.
“Usually, the drug complaints, typically, those are complaints initiated,” Silverio said. “We don’t [initiate them] unless they’re from a traffic stop and somebody smoked weed in the car, or the officers were on foot patrol somewhere doing something unrelated — usually those are called in to us. I don’t know if there was an uptick in [Residential Life] reporting maybe. There could be a number of different factors that could influence that.”
The usage, possession, selling and purchasing of marijuana and other drugs is prohibited in the Code of Student Conduct. Jazell Johnson, director of the Office of Student Conduct, said that she could not identify why referrals went up 148 cases between the two years.
“It’s a bit hard to know for certain, but the timeframe lines up with the decriminalization of some marijuana offenses in New York so matters that would previously likely have ended up in [Town of Binghamton Court] were instead handled as student conduct matters,” Johnson wrote in an email.
Johnson also wrote that the legalization of marijuana across the nation has led to the drug being more accessible, a possible factor in increased referrals. Laya Mathai, a sophomore majoring in biology, said the increase in conduct referrals is due to a number of factors.
“It is a bit concerning that there’s been a big increase in drug arrests,” Mathai wrote. “But, I do not think I agree [the referrals increase] is because of decreased criminalization of marijuana. I don’t think it’s the sole reason. I think more police presence on campus [is part of it]”
Although there is no data on race in regards to arrests or referrals, some students like Jay Hurley, a senior majoring in psychology, worry that people of color are targeted in many instances.
“I think the University should have more education available to students and should take a more caring response toward students and their drug use,” Hurley wrote. “I do strongly feel that the University widely targets [people of color] for these actions and hands them more severe punishments over their white counterparts.”
According to Data Collaborative for Justice, a division of John Jay College seeking to aid communities with research on criminal justice, arrests between Black and white people for drug charges have been disproportionate in New York’s history. In 2017, for every white person to be arrested for possession of marijuana, 12.1 Black people were in New York’s upstate cities.
Abigail Stark, a junior double-majoring in psychology and Spanish, agreed with Hurley’s assumptions.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if students of color were disproportionately being arrested for these types of crimes given everything that’s come to light recently,” Stark wrote. “If you take a look at the Instagram account @blackatbing, you can see that students experience racism on a daily basis, and unfortunately [BU] isn’t immune to that.”
The @blackatbing Instagram account posts anonymous stories from people of color who have experienced racism at BU, with 25 stories posted since its creation in July.
Admitting that there is no data present on race for arrests and referrals at BU, Stark added that the University must do better with diversity.
“While I think it’s important that we have a safe environment at school, especially given current health concerns, the University had better practice what they preach in terms of championing diversity and equality,” Stark wrote. “That being said, we don’t exactly know the demographics of the students being arrested, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the stats at Binghamton were representative of the disproportion that we’re seeing in the rest of the country right now.”