Timothy Faughnan, chief of Binghamton’s New York State University Police, sat down with Pipe Dream last week for a frank conversation about his 30 years of experience on this campus. This interview, which was conducted by Adam Tarchoun, has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What would you say the impact of the 21-year drinking age has had on the University?
A: The drinking age is certainly something that I have to be very careful about taking a firm stand on, but I think on a statewide basis I would like to see it reviewed again. Is 21 the appropriate age to be able to buy and consume alcohol? I’ve lived through 21, 19 and 18 in my career, and I think that the 21-year-old drinking age has caused its own set of problems that we didn’t see when the drinking age was 18 … What the change in drinking age did on this campus and a lot of campuses is that it sent a lot of the alcohol consumption deeper underground or off campus, where the University really doesn’t have an ability to control or monitor it while it is taking place. We as a university lost something. We lost a measure of control when the drinking age changed. [Drinking] doesn’t occur in our presence anymore.
There are pros and cons to moving it back to 18 again. Any policy change or law change should be reviewed. Is it working or isn’t it? I would be a willing participant to discuss my experiences if [a review] ever happened. I would go to the state senate and say, “Here’s what happened when it was 18 and here’s what happened when it was 21.” So I’m a little reluctant to take a firm stand right now, but I would like to see [the law] reviewed to see if it was effective, or if it created more severe and significant problems by changing to 21.
Q: What are some drug-related issues that you believe are giving students distress?
A: I would like students to think more carefully with marijuana use. There seems to be a very casual attitude about it, more so than I saw 10 years ago. There seems to be an attitude of “everybody does it; it ought to be legal anyway.” What bothers me is that students can unnecessarily get in trouble over it. It can impact your financial aid. There are a lot of implications to a drug arrest for a student.
Q: How do you classify a marijuana issue in terms of incidents with the police?
A: Marijuana ranks on quantity and sales. You don’t want to be caught selling it. That’s much worse. By the way, giving is selling. Hypothetically, if I’m giving you an ounce of marijuana, that’s criminal sale of a controlled substance. It doesn’t have to be cash that changes hands. In fact, we’ve had cases where students have been caught with all the scales and packaging materials and they say, “It’s just for my friends.” They say, “I’m not a drug dealer,” but by law, you are, and you are treated as such in the courts.
Students don’t get it because of this casual attitude. People get more upset by people smoking cigarettes than marijuana. But until the law changes, I have to enforce it. We cannot choose what laws to enforce and what laws not to enforce. If you look at the bigger picture, once we arrive on the scene, we have to act. Once police are called, we can’t just walk away.
Q. Chief, Cornell University is opening up a campus pub. What are your thoughts on that?
A. Well that’s an interesting thing that I’ve seen going on at other colleges as well, not just Cornell. Cornell has had a limited opening now, but I believe it is going to have a full opening in the fall. What I’ve seen is that when the drinking age changed to 21, a lot of campuses closed their pubs, including here at Binghamton. We always need to be looking at when things change. Five years later, 10 years later, was it a good change? Should we continue down the same road, or look at something different?
One of the reasons some of these pubs are reopening on college campuses is to kind of bring students back to the campus and to an environment that is controlled, and maybe serves alcohol — certainly only to those who are of legal age. It is an environment that will give students an outlet on campus, and it’s an outlet that gives them the bar-type atmosphere with pub food, live bands, comedians, things like that. The whole idea would be to have a controlled environment, and by that, I mean the campus is very heavily invested in its own legal good standing, as well as the safety of the students. So if there were a pub on campus, I can say that IDs would be checked and verified. I can’t say the same for the bars Downtown.
Another reason they’re opening up is to address this off-campus behavior of students who are going Downtown, where there really are no checks as far as legal drinking age; there’s no control over the amount of consumption, and that results in bad behavior off campus in Downtown Binghamton. You’ve probably been there, State street – students get drunk and end up getting in trouble, fights, breaking things. At least in a campus pub environment, a lot of that can be controlled by the University and will be controlled … So do I have an opinion of whether we should do it or not here? I will reserve that opinion, but I think that if the issue is raised here it certainly deserves some consideration by the campus, and I suspect that it will eventually be raised here because it is happening in other places nearby. I think it deserves a good look and a good evaluation of whether we should do it.
Q: In your annual presentation to the BU council, you cited statistics detailing an increase in criminal reports. What does this statistic mean for BU?
A. Well, we’ve seen a slight increase in the number of calls on crime or criminal behavior. I don’t believe there is an increase in crime, per se. An increase in reporting demonstrates confidence in the department. The department is working and it shows they do trust us; students, faculty and staff trust us to respond and provide the service they require, and over [a] 10-year period, we’ve been pretty stable when it comes to crime. In fact, crime has even gone down slightly.
Q: Since crime has been down in the last 10 years, what is the biggest issue you find students getting in trouble over? What is the most frequently occurring crime here?
A: There are several crimes that are the most frequently occurring crimes everywhere. Larceny, criminal mischief, harassment — these are the three most common. When people steal what’s not theirs, break what’s not theirs and they bother each other.
Q: In the case that a student does get in trouble off campus, what kind of assistance can UPD provide?
A: If a student gets in trouble off campus, it’s not our role to get them out of jail. But what we can do, and we do frequently, is we can at least advise students on what to expect and point them toward defense attorneys. We can make referrals. We can’t advise them how to get out of trouble. That would be inconsistent with what we’re here for. It would be a conflict of interest.
Q. Since you started working in UPD in 1982, what have been the experiences that stuck with you the most, good and bad?
A. The best part in 30 years is that I’ve got 30 years of experience working closely with students, getting to know students. I’ve had tremendous opportunity to meet with students, to do educational programming, to advise students, and to help them through tough times. That’s where the real reward is … The downside, of course, is that you see tragedy. I’ve seen students who lost their lives. I’ve seen young people in distress, and as a parent of three college students myself right now, to me that’s always the worst part. There have been 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds going through some really severe, bad times. Any number of things that could possibly have a lifelong impact. I’ve seen bad stuff; let’s put it that way. But on the other hand, that’s why we’re here, to help students who are experiencing these life-changing events, and even if I can play a small part in helping this person get their life back on track, there’s reward in that. Even out of the worst things, there is always some reward.