Members of the Boulder Police Department and University of Colorado Police Department make their way through the crowd during the 4/20 event on Norlin Quad at the University of Colorado in Boulder on April 20, 2010. (Mark Leffingwell, Daily Camera file)

CU-Boulder arrests for drug, alcohol violations down

CU police Chief Melissa Zak cites change in department enforcement to emphasis on alternative discipline: "Do we need to criminalize certain behavior if it's minor criminal behavior?"

BOULDER — Following a recent trend, the number of arrests for drug and alcohol violations among University of Colorado students declined in 2014, according to newly released crime statistics.

The number of arrests for liquor law violations dropped 46 percent between 2013 and 2014, with the number of arrests for drug law violations declining 52 percent. Those statistics appear in the university’s 2015 Security and Fire Safety Report, which includes data on offenses committed on and near campus.

The annual report is mandated by the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to disclose campus safety information.

CU police Chief Melissa Zak said the decline doesn’t necessarily reflect a change in behavior, but rather a change in enforcement from her department. The number of arrests and disciplinary referrals for alcohol and drug violations at CU have been declining, for the most part, since 2011.

“You have conversations about do certain things need to be criminalized?” she said. “Do we need to criminalize certain behavior if it’s minor criminal behavior? Do we need to send a student through the court process, put their financial aid at risk, put their future admission to graduate school at risk?

“Are there other means to not inundate a criminal justice system that’s already overtaxed and redirect these students into other programs so we can correct their behavior and see them be successful?”

Student conduct

Indeed, the number of disciplinary referrals to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution increased slightly — about 1.4 percent — for alcohol violations and about 30 percent for drug violations between 2013 and 2014.

Students referred to that office can choose to accept responsibility for their actions and resolve the issue informally with options such as an alcohol or substance use class, a residence hall “peace circle,” meeting with campus resources or other educational requirements.

“The first time they go through the process, we see it as an opportunity to really ask about their experience as a student, how they’re doing, provide resources for them, get them connected to a tutor if they need it, drug and alcohol resources if they need it,” said Jessica Doty, director of the student conduct office.

Doty said she believes Clery statistics are useful, but may not tell the whole story about student behavior on campus.

She said the number of students who are repeat offenders, as well as the number of students who are transported to the hospital for alcohol or drug-related issues, may be better indicators of substance use.

CU saw a 37 percent drop in the number of referrals to addiction recovery centers between 2013 and 2014, campus officials said. Doty said the campus does not currently have year-over-year data on recidivism.

Zak said it’s too soon to tell what effect the enforcement change will have on student success, if any. The campus is focused on improving its graduation rate, and one of the areas officials are focused on is ensuring that students return to campus after their first year.

The chief said CU officers aren’t “overlooking” drinking or marijuana consumption. Instead, they’ve been directed to consider all their options.

“Drinking is one thing, excessive drinking is another, ” Zak said. “Drinking associated with violent outbursts, fights, inappropriate comments, sex assault is something that is still in the criminal realm. So we’re not telling them to overlook the drinking, the marijuana smoking, we’re telling them there’s a time and a place and there’s an option that you have as an officer out there.”

Intimate partner crimes

This also marked the second year CU reported statistics for crimes such as domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, which are now required under the Violence Against Women Act.

In 2014, there were 12 instances of domestic violence, one instance of dating violence and four instances of stalking. There were also 16 total sex offenses.

“Getting the message out about intimate partner abuse, dating violence, stalking, is so huge,” Zak said. “We have a young population that are now starting to form intimate relationships and they’re trying to figure out some of these roles of communication. It’s an important conversation for us to have and to track that.”

2014 University of Colorado crime statistics

Robbery: 4

Aggravated assault: 3

Burglary: 29

Motor vehicle theft: 13

Arson: 3

Sex offenses: 16

Domestic violence: 12

Dating violence: 1

Stalking: 4

Arrests for alcohol law violations: 274

Arrests for drug law violations: 144

Disciplinary referrals for alcohol violations: 1,501

Disciplinary referrals for drug violations: 762

Weapons arrests: 2

Source: 2014 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, University of Colorado

DOCUMENT: View the 2015 Security and Fire Safety Report

Sarah Kuta: 303-473-1106, kutas@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta

This story was first published on DailyCamera.com