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Letters from an alums about police undercover operations at the eating clubs

March 12, 2003

PAW reported in the March 12 Notebook on the latest and nastiest incident in Princeton Borough Police Chief Charles Davall's escalating vendetta against students, and in the January 29 Notebook on the university's sudden dramatic increase in unrestricted cash grants to the Borough government, but has failed to connect the dots. Let me do so.

If students coming to Princeton face a substantially greater risk of leaving college with a criminal record than do students going to peer institutions, it is not because our students are doing anything their counterparts elsewhere are not. It is because the municipal council has appointed a police chief who is a zealot for proactive prohibition enforcement, and who has made harassing undergraduates his number-one priority. (His aim is to close down any place within walking distance where students might drink, as if the experience of schools across the country did not show that the result would be traffic accidents involving students driving back after partying out of town, rather than mass conversion of students to teetotalism.) The council has given Davall enough resources to put an army of a half-dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers on Prospect on weekends, plus undercover agents in the clubs, and more. Sadly, the fact that they have felt free to commit such resources without counting the cost, which must run well into six figures, is largely the result of the misdirected generosity of Nassau Hall.

There is worse to come. The council is poised to grant Davall an ordinance that will allow him to stage raids on private clubs at will, on no more pretext than a noise complaint, which he can easily get whenever he wants. At the same time, the university has announced a huge increase in its cash gifts to the Borough. The amount of damage to student lives and careers Davall will be able to do once armed with the new ordinance from the council and an extra hundred thousand dollars from the university is alarming to contemplate.

Why has the administration just now, when the behavior of the beer police of Chief Davall is increasingly resembling that of the morals police of Mullah Omar, chosen to reward the council that installed and funds Davall by handing them a gift of an great sum of money, a large fraction of which will surely end up in Davall's hands? Perhaps administrators simply got tired of listening to the relentless nagging of local pols, who habitually excuse their own fiscal irresponsibility, beginning with their gross over-spending on police operations, by blaming the university's tax-exempt status for a lack of revenue, and caved in to the pols' demands. In that case, the administration needs to be nagged a little from the other side. Alumni who do not think sponsoring raids on student organizations and subsidizing the establishment of a network of police spies on campus is an appropriate use of endowment income and Annual Giving contributions should let the president know their sentiments. Princeton Borough does not deserve to get a cent from the university until Davall has been dismissed and his undercover agents along with him, and until the police budget has been cut by the amount he has been devoting to his war on students.

John P. Burgess ’69
Professor of Philosophy
Princeton, N.J.

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February 5, 2003

I am replying to a distressing article I just read in the Daily Princetonian about arresting officers of eating clubs for serving alcohol to minors who were actually undercover police-people.

While it may appear at first blush that you are working for the safety of the students, one would presume that an organization that sees so much of the dark side of partying should be able to easily predict the outcome of its actions.

Princeton has been, in all the time I've known it, a uniquely safe place for college kids to have fun (yes, by drinking). The preferred party locations are all in walking distance from everywhere on campus, so no one drives. No money is exchanged so there is much lower risk for property and violent crime motivated by money. Our public heath system is set up in such a way that students can seek the safety of their friends first, without worrying about repercussions that may dissuade them from getting medical help. Finally, and most germane to the issue at hand, the eating clubs serve beer —weak, cheap beer, and they tend to serve it free to anyone who wants it.

As a former eating club officer at Colonial Club (the frequent host of such underage parties as the freshman and sophomore formals), I have direct experience with two very different types of parties at Princeton — the "normal" nights where beer sloshed through the building, and those formal events where no alcohol was served by the club whatsoever.

The interesting and surprising phenomenon, which apparently the police are not aware of, is that there was always a marked increase in the number of dangerously drunk (and by dangerously I mean that students were sent to the hospital, not to McCosh health center) on those nights during which no alcohol was served at the clubs to those minors. I do not feel that I need to further explain, but in case what seems obvious to me is not obvious to the law enforcement decision-makers, I will. When denied the ability to drink the cheap, weak beer that is served at the eating clubs on a weekly basis, students (yes, even underage ones) instead will consume alcohol on their own. And specifically when the place of partying and the place of drinking is separated by a 15-minute walk, those underage students will tend to drink large amounts of hard liquor in order to remain drunk at the party. And as anyone who has been drunk before can attest, it is a hell of a lot easier to get "too drunk" with liquor than it is with cheap beer.

College kids are going to drink. They are not going to sit around and play Scrabble through all hours of the night. If they can't get free Milwaukee's Best at the clubs, they will drink cheap vodka that their neighbor bought with his fake I.D. If that neighbor's fake I.D. gets taken, then older brother from home will bring up 20 bottles of rum the next time he comes up to tide over his brother and roommates. And those kids will drink a lot of liquor very quickly, fill up a cup with half rum and half coke, and head out to the clubs, MUCH drunker and MUCH less safe than they would have been before. And more of those students will find themselves in the hospital the next day because of it.

So please ask yourself whether, in your zealous attempt uphold what is indeed the law, you are actually putting more students in danger. When this policy does more harm than good, will you be prepared to revert back to the proper and safe policy, or will you knee-jerk again and aim for an even more restrictive policy that causes yet more harm?

Cameron Jones ’01
Arlington, Va.

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