Editor\’s Note: The Big Green decided to continue the Dear Lou Anna series with a letter to East Lansing’s mayor, Sam Singh. We will continue to write the president, as well as the mayor, on issues that affect students on campus and in the city.
[dad] On fall weekend nights, before the cold really sets in, there\’s a predictable scene: jam-packed sidewalks, car horns honking angrily at pedestrians and students arriving back at their dormitories in the wee hours of the morning. Each weekend, more MSU students become another Minor in Possession (MIP) statistic in the East Lansing Police Department report. Police from the E.L.P.D. were kept busy with the abundance of raging house parties, unlimited kegs and many intoxicated students roaming the streets. The E.L.P.D. did the duties that come with serving a big-time college town rather well – over Welcome Weekend, the most boisterious party weekend of all, police handed out 96 MIPs and 119 open intoxication citations, as well as 37 tickets for disorderly conduct.
The cops are easily recognizable as their official uniforms stand out in stark contrast to the tank tops and button-down shirts of traditional party-hoppers. This year, however, some of the police officers were a little less distinguishable as self-proclaimed ‘plain clothes officers.’ Marketing senior Scott Lachman, who lives off campus, said he did not encounter any undercover police officers during his welcome week this year. “I personally didn’t see (plain-clothes officers), but I heard rumors, and there were rumors coming out of my fraternity,” Lachman said. [lieutenant]
In this case, the rumors proved to be true, according to Lt. Kim Johnson of the E.L.P.D. Undercover cops can stealthily infiltrate crowds of party-goers; students usually do not give older people walking around campus a second glance. “We had some plain-clothes officers out working and they were (working) with illegal behavior,” Johnson said. \”We’re trying to keep a lid on things.”
Everyone knows that underage drinking and handing out alcohol to minors is illegal. Younger students take their own risks when attending parties where alcohol is present, and they take an even greater risk trying to get as much as they can out of that precious five-dollar cup that is glued to one hand all night. But Sam, it seems like a bit of a stretch for the E.L.P.D. to go as far as using plain-clothes officers to bust kids for an MIP. The community should have much more to worry about than handing out as many MIPs as possible.
There are students who think the plain-clothes cops are a good idea, like zoology sophomore Ryan Wilson. “(It is) a really good way to crack down on (under-age drinking),” Wilson said. “(Drinking) is wrong in my book if it’s under-age…I disagree with breaking the law in the first place.”
Lt. Johnson took full responsibility for implementing the idea of plain-clothes officers, putting to rest assumptions by students who were quick to blame the university. Those opposed to the sneak tactics could also say the policy came about from concerns of East Lansing residents. Students and residents are at a seemingly constant war; it is no stretch to think that residents were tired of the frequent wild parties. This is a common assumption to make, although hard statistics were not created to prove it, Johnson said.
“Our people in East Lansing want a police presence,” she said. “They want illegal behaviors to be stopped and we’re doing the best we can do.”
The permanent residents of East Lansing and thousands of semi-permanent MSU students are linked by the Community Relations Coalition (CRC), an organization that strives to create and maintain trusting and solid relationships between the two groups. In an atmosphere where students can throw a house party any night of the week and working adults have to wake up at sunrise for a day of work, conflict is bound to arise. The CRC tries to mediate and establish support and open lines of communication before the involvement of uniformed or plain-clothes officers. Chris Marshall, a Neighborhood Resource Coordinator in the organization, stated in an e-mail that his organization has never had discussions about the plain-clothes officers.
[bikes] “In fact, the topic has never come up in our meeting agendas; very few people, including myself, know about their use,” said Marshall, a social relations senior. “I do door-to-door conversations with my student neighbors, and they haven\’t brought it to my attention. Perhaps they\’re so well hidden that no one seems to notice. In that regard, they must be effective.”
Congratulations to the police for being vigilant and active in the community, but this all still seems a bit extreme. Why use these officers when it’s easy enough to find drunk, stumbling students walking down the road? Inebriated students often forget to avoid drawing attention to themselves, whether or not they are of legal age. [community]
While it seems ridiculous the E.L.P.D. went this far, it is understandable that they want to try to limit underage drinking. The police must recognize East Lansing is a college town, and students are still going to party hard, no matter what new policies are developed. Maybe this will cut down on some of the large parties as intended, but it could very well add to the number of illegal behaviors that are dealt with each weekend.
“We want to enforce the law,” Johnson said. “We don’t make the rules, we don’t make the laws – we just enforce them. (Using plain-clothes officers) is effective, and we’ll be doing whatever we feel is effective to be dealing with illegal behavior.”
Now, thanks to the plain-clothes officers, students are going to have to be even more on their toes when they’re out on the town after the football team’s big win (provided we get another one…) or going to quench their thirst on Thursdays. Even those of legal age are not completely safe: officers can hand out citations for being a 21-year-old drunken nuisance just as easily, in typical blue uniform or dusty street clothes. Just be aware when walking down the streets to the biggest party on the block and you see an “older” kid scuffing his shoes discreetly on the sidewalk: is that a flask in his pocket, or a badge and a pair of handcuffs? I don’t think he’s just happy to see you…
Minor N. Possession