Campus police are dealt an unfortunate situation to begin with.
It’s not the police’s fault the drinking age is 21 not 18, but since it’s their job to enforce the law, the blame and resentment usually fall to its officers. Especially now, in light of recent incidents in which multiple Lehigh students were hospitalized from alcohol-related incidents, alcohol safety is of the utmost importance.
However, I find some of the ways the Lehigh University Police Department operates in these situations go too far. Specifically, LUPD’s possession of a police dog and a surveillance drone go beyond what is necessary to police students. They can even infringe on students’ rights, which further sours the relationship between students and LUPD.
In both cases, the sheer ownership of these resources by the LUPD criminalizes students even before they are used.
Surveillance drones are used by police to actively look for crime, and the fact that LUPD feels the need to use such a severe device means it thinks students are committing crimes and need to be surveilled. It is understandably upsetting to students because they are made uncomfortable by the drone.
With similarly invasive intentions, police dogs are typically used for bomb sniffing and drug location. Since Lehigh rarely has credible bomb threats, the new dog’s main purpose will most likely be locating drugs. Owning a drug-sniffing dog implies LUPD either thinks or is assuming a significant portion of Lehigh is doing drugs to merit this measure, again criminalizing students.
In the case of the drone, students’ privacy rights could easily be violated. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, drones cannot be flown higher than 400 feet. However, students are technically entitled to a certain airspace over their property. While the U.S. Supreme Court has not made an official ruling, between 83 and 500 feet can be considered a height wherein residents can expect their airspace clear based on prior rulings. If the drone flies within this zone, a resident could form a case for invasion of privacy.
Beyond the possible violation of privacy rights, the drone is simply an unnecessary expenditure. If it were to fly in legal airspace at 400 feet, it would be restricted to public sidewalks and roads, where police cruisers already patrol.
If LUPD’s goal is to shut down parties, it doesn’t need a drone. It’s incredibly easy to tell which houses are hosting parties from the music and noise. These observations or noise complaints from other residents can give LUPD probable cause to shut down parties without the use of the drone.
Like the drone, having a police dog also infringes on students’ rights. If there was some form of complaint about drugs and the police dog was brought in, that would fall under probable cause and be perfectly fine. However, I don’t think any of us want to live in an Orwellian Lehigh where a police dog patrols the dorms. That takes it too far.
Since the police dog is still in training, we don’t know how LUPD plans to use it in the field. But even if the police dog is reserved for the rare bomb threat or drug complaint, I don’t think that’s enough to merit the police dog’s use. I love dogs, but it takes a lot of money to raise a normal dog, let alone a police dog that requires special training. When you consider the cost, I don’t think unlikely bomb threats and drug complaints are enough to justify the expenditure.
I don’t mean to bash LUPD.
It’s faced with a difficult job, but I don’t think treating students like criminals is going to help. It’s a natural reaction for students to distrust the police when we’re treated like we’re guilty before proven innocent. Further straining students’ relationship with LUPD certainly won’t fix the problem. If anything, I can see it further escalating the situation if students feel uncomfortable calling authorities when they need to be called.
The best way forward is collaboration. If LUPD works better with students to educate us about alcohol safety, our rights when it comes to medical amnesty and police presence in our dorms and homes, students would be more likely to call for help, prioritize safety and improve their relationship with LUPD.
Anna Simoneau, ’18, is the graphics editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org