The college experience
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Survey finds alcohol and drug arrests on the rise at colleges
While campus alcohol and drug arrests continue to rise nationwide, the UA has reported a slight decrease in both categories, as well as decreases in burglary, arson and weapons offenses.
A yearly study conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the nation's alcohol arrests increased 24.3 percent in 1998. Drug offenses rose 11.1 percent.
The Chronicle surveyed 481 four-year institutions with an enrollment of 5,000 or more students.
Each institution is required by federal law to report yearly arrests.
The University of Arizona reported 241 liquor-law violations in 1998, down from 267 the year before. The UA also reported 123 drug violations, a decrease of 19 from 1997.
"Obviously, with the stats like this, it's good to see the decrease," said Sgt. Michael Smith, a UAPD spokesman. "Hopefully, it is because of the rewards of the campus community and the campus police department's efforts that there is this decrease."
A change in student attitudes towards alcohol and drug use may also be the catalyst for the decrease in arrests, said Carolyn Collins, interim director for UA Health Promotion and Preventive Services.
"Our climate here has changed over the last few years in regards to drug and alcohol usage," she said. "I think it has to do with a number of campus departments working together along with the campus police department enforcing the laws consistently."
Collins said the decreased level of arrests was also a direct result of government policy designed to combat student drinking and drug usage.
"I think it is because the campus health service has been fortunate to receive federal funding over the past few years that has allowed us to implement a number of strategies to reduce the number of alcohol and drug-related problems," she said. "I (also) would really give the police department credit for their consistent enforcement of laws."
According to The Chronicle, campus drinking and drug violations have, on average, risen every year since 1991, when the study began. The increases in 1998 were the sharpest reported to date.
In 1998, there were 23,261 reported alcohol-related arrests, an increase from 18,708 the year before. The University of Wisconsin-Madison led all schools with 792 alcohol-related arrests in 1998, out-distancing Washington State University, which was second with 353 arrests.
UA Health and Preventative Services uses a number of options to combat alcohol and drug use, all of which use educational practices to introduce students to the realities surrounding the two.
"The reason why the University of Arizona has seen a decrease is that we are in the fourth or fifth year of a program designed to reduce binge drinking," said UA spokeswoman Sharon Kha. "We've done studies every year to try to determine whether the strategies have had any result."
Kha said that while The Chronicle statistics are important, the information gained from UA Health Promotion and Preventative Services is a more accurate reflection of student alcohol and drug usage.
"I was not basing my statements on the number of alcohol-related arrests," Kha said. "It was on the underlying research - and that research showed that binge drinking is down dramatically."
While both The Chronicle and UA Health Promotion and Preventative Services reported decreases in student drug use, the UA still ranked fourth nationally in drug-related arrests with 123.
"Basically, most of our efforts have been designed to combat problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption," Collins said. "We address marijuana separately through our diversion program. We have a separate class just for marijuana-related referrals."
Collins said the UA has focused more energy into educating students about the dangers of alcohol consumption because it affects more students than drug use.
According to the last campus survey conducted by UA Health Promotion and Preventative Services after the 1999 spring semester, 18 percent of the 1,766 students surveyed said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. Ten percent claimed they used marijuana once a week, 0.8 percent daily.
"We have less than five percent reporting on our survey using drugs other than marijuana," Collins said.
The University of California at Berkeley led schools surveyed by The Chronicle with 382 drug-related arrests in 1998, followed by Rutgers University at New Brunswick with 358, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with 132.
Smith said that while the statistics are a good sign, there is always room for improvement.
"Right now, it is a positive trend, but we should not just sit and pat ourselves on the back," he said. "The education needs to continue."
One improvement that Smith cited was the change in the greek system regarding alcohol.
"The decision of the greek community to limit the number of alcohol parties will have a tremendous effect," he said. "The climate of the campus is definitely changing."
The survey's validity, car theft and assault
Questions concerning the validity of the survey have arisen, especially under the categories of alcohol and drug-related arrests. Recent federal legislation, called the Cleary Act, now requires universities and colleges to report disciplinary referrals along with arrest figures.
Some schools, such as Wake Forest University, lumped both referrals and arrests into one figure, giving an inaccurate number for the survey. Wake Forest reported 298 alcohol-related arrests in 1998, but after further questioning by The Chronicle, there was only one arrest made and 297 referrals.
Smith said the UA does not differentiate between referrals to the diversion program and actual arrests.
"The incident itself is still a reportable offense regardless of the (punishment) options an officer has in front of him," he said.
Smith added that not reporting referrals to The Chronicle would not help matters.
"I think it would be wrong to pretend it (arrests) didn't happen."
In addition to these reporting inaccuracies, federal legislation has forced colleges and universities to report crimes on public and private property that border university campuses.
Although this legislation does not go into effect until the 1999 crime reports are compiled, some schools chose to include that information with their 1998 reports.
At UNC Greensboro, there were 132 drug-related arrests made, although 88 were in the areas bordering the campus.
The UA reported increases in two categories, aggravated assault and motor-vehicle theft. The sharpest increase was in car thefts. In 1998, there were 79 vehicle thefts, while in 1997 there were only 46 reports.
"There's a lot of nice vehicles on campus - it's just an opportunity-rich area for crimes of opportunity victims," Smith said.
In 1998, there were 11 aggravated assault arrests, an increase of seven from the previous year.
"While alcohol and drug use will get a lot of attention, there are many other crimes that many others don't realize," Smith said. "Those serious crimes like theft and crimes of opportunity are very important and often overlooked."
Smith said the increases were relative to the increasing wealth of the community and that continued education is needed to combat crime.
"We can't, unfortunately, be everywhere at all times. That's where the educational process comes in," he said.