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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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"Police Response, Punishment of Alcohol Violations Varies By Location"

The consequences to students being caught providing minors with alcohol, both on campus and off, have lead to confusion over police jurisdiction.

In two separate incidents this year, comparable violations on and off campus were handled very differently by the University Police. In the on-campus occurrence, students were punished concurrently by the Amherst Town Court and the Student-Wide Judiciary, the Student Association's judicial branch. The off-campus incident was dealt with solely by the Student-Wide Judiciary .

In the first instance, in late August, University Police arrived at South Lake Village to find 20 underage students drinking in adjacent apartments. The apartments' eight residents were handcuffed and taken to the University Police station, Bissell Hall, where they were fingerprinted, photographed and dealt Amherst Town Court summonses for unlawful dealings with a child. The residents were additionally referred to SWJ and suspended from campus.

In a letter to the residents from Dean of Student Affairs Barbara Ricotta, she said the students posed a "clear and present danger to the university community and functions."

The students were able to return to their classes and extra-curricular activities the following week after meeting with Ricotta, who lifted the suspensions.

Jeremy Carr, one of the residents arrested, said he received 45 community-service hours from SWJ.

In the Amherst Town Court hearing, with the help of a lawyer, the eight plea-bargained their sentences down to six months of probation and 25 additional hours of community service.

When asked if he thought his Amherst Town Court sentence was fair, John Duffy, another of the arrestees, said, "Considering that we were already doing community service, I do not."

In a similar situation Nov. 17, the Buffalo Police Department and University Police responded to a noise violation on Lisbon Avenue in the University Heights district.

The Buffalo police broke up the party, arrested one student on an outstanding warrant and referred the situation to the accompanying University Police, according to Lt. Larry Barry, chief information officer for the BPD.

University Police, which has jurisdiction in all of New York state, issued one SWJ summons to Pedro Diaz, an underage UB student, for possession of alcohol, and another to Matthew Albert, a resident of the house and a Spectrum editor, for disturbing the peace.

Neither student was arrested, issued a summons for public trial nor banned from campus.

Albert reported receiving 30 hours of community service and obligatory enrollment in alcohol abuse seminars from the student court.

"Hopefully they'll teach me to make a good margarita," said Albert.

Students often question why University Police officers and SWJ have jurisdiction over incidents occurring off-campus. Director of University Police John Grela said the UB's Student Conduct Rules apply to all students, regardless of their whereabouts.

"University jurisdiction and discipline shall pertain to conduct which occurs on University premises or off-campus and which adversely affects the University Community, including any of its members, and/or the pursuit of its objectives," the rules state. Students are required to sign the code upon admittance to the university.

"If anything happens off campus, the SWJ has jurisdiction to sanction [students]," said John Menard, director of Group Legal Services, the organization which provides UB students with free legal advice.

Unlawful possession of alcohol by minors is one of the prohibitions included in the code of conduct.

Under Article 4 of the code, "no person under the age of twenty-one years shall possess any alcoholic beverage ... with the intent to consume such beverage."

When acting in concert with other police departments, University Police allows the local department to determine what charges should be brought, according to Grela. In the Lisbon case, after that determination was made by the Buffalo police, University Police applied the charges against Albert and Diaz, he said.

"That is [the BPD] jurisdiction's protocol for the way they want to deal with the problem," said Grela. "If it was someone else's jurisdiction, they would have the final decision."

The Buffalo police, however, play no role in determining charges once another department is handling the situation, said Barry.

"We turn it over to the University Police and let them take whatever measures they need to take," said Barry.

Diaz declined to comment or discuss his sanction from SWJ and said only, "I got off easy."

The residents of South Lake who received harsher penalties for similar, on-campus actions are disturbed by the disparity.

"That's not exactly right," said Duffy.

"I'm no law expert, but if the same laws are being broken, they should be handled in the same way," Carr said.



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