'What happens at Bowdoin ...' draws attention to college relationship with Brunswick police
BRUNSWICK — It's Ivies Weekend at Bowdoin College.
For many students that means music, house parties and the seemingly ubiquitous plastic cups and water bottles – the alcoholic contents of which are widely known, but best not flaunted, especially off campus.
Students who imbibe and stray onto public property – particularly those under age 21 – will be tempting a run-in with Brunswick police.
Police Department officials say Ivies Weekend means business as usual, with extra officers at the ready. But given a recent rise in the number of Bowdoin students who have received summonses for alcohol-related charges, some students might be wondering if the cops are changing their business model.
Although police didn't provide arrest or summons data involving Bowdoin students, followers of the police blotter will have noticed a significant increase in incidents since February.
The spike is no coincidence: it follows the department's recent receipt of a $12,000 grant to crack down on underage drinking, both downtown and among college students.
The grant authorization followed two high-profile incidents involving Bowdoin students, including an alleged assault on a nurse at Parkview Adventist Hospital.
A few weeks later, a student driving a van was charged with operating under the influence in the parking lot of Watson Arena. All six passengers, including five Bowdoin students, were charged with illegal consumption of alcohol.
According to a recent editorial in the Bowdoin Orient student newspaper, the increased enforcement has students worrying that police are crossing an unwritten line between town and gown.
The perceived division has a loose connection to police policy, largely because the college campus is private property. However, Brunswick residents sometimes complain that police are hamstrung by college officials who put the institution's public image above public safety.
Town and Bowdoin officials refute that claim.
"On the contrary, Bowdoin feels pretty fortunate to have the relationship it does with the town and the Police Department," college spokesman Scott Hood said.
"We don't have the kind of tensions the media is trying to create, presently company excluded," Hood added. "... The media creates that conflict because it's a story. In fact, it actually behooves us to cooperate with the town and the police."
In recent years, Brunswick police have left on-campus law enforcement to Bowdoin security. According to Cmdr. Marc Hagan, police don't patrol the private campus unless requested.
Hagan said the policy was changed slightly last year, when Police Chief Richard Rizzo told officers to start responding to on-campus rescue calls involving alcohol poisoning.
"The students aren't used to that," Hagan said. "But the chief's concern was that there was the potential for a crime being committed."
Hagan added that about 90 percent of off-campus incidents result in students being turned over to Bowdoin security. Police pursue criminal or civil charges for the other 10 percent, he said.
Enforcement of the underage drinking grant has highlighted that 10 percent, perhaps increasing it, leading some parents to claim police are unfairly targeting students.
Hood said there's been no significant increase of such calls to the college's Student Affairs office. And, despite the bump in negative publicity, Hood said the college is not pressuring local police to back off.
"I dont' think the college feels put upon in any way," Hood said. "If the students are breaking the law, they should be held accountable. ... We expect our students to act responsibly, and for the most part they do."
Town Manager Gary Brown this week said he hasn't received any push-back from college officials. In a recent meeting, Brown said, Bowdoin Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster told him and the police "to bring the hammer down" on illegal student activity.
"My sense is that the college has no tolerance for this stuff," Brown said, adding that college officials were adamant about bringing charges after a student allegedly assaulted the nurse.
"If you're asking me if I've received calls from the college asking police to back off, I can say absolutely not," he added.
Meanwhile, police officials maintain that despite the underage drinking grant, which partially funds officers' overtime pay, their campus patrol policy hasn't changed.
"We've repeatedly told our officers that this is business as usual," Hagan said. "We're certainly not going to onto campus, looking to bust students."
However, Hagan said, officers will continue patrolling public roads, many of which pass through through the college campus.
"The way the campus is ingrained in the community, officers can't help but pass by students," he said.
Basically, Hagan said, if students don't draw attention to themselves – littering, urinating on residents' lawns or drinking in public – police won't have any reason to bother them.
"By and large, Bowdoin students are respectful of our officers and obey the laws," Hagan said. "We don't see this as a huge issue with the college."
Nonetheless, organizers of Ivies Weekend have moved concert events from college Quad to the more remote Whittier Field.
A Bowdoin Orient story indicated the switch would help keep students with open containers off public streets.
However, Hood said that was a "side benefit" of the move, adding that the real impetus was to make room for one of the band's tractor-trailers, concert ticketing and to make sure only Bowdoin students are admitted.
Hood acknowledged that Whittier Field is tucked inside a residential neighborhood, but said the college has attempted to notify neighbors of the upcoming festivities.
"Hopefully they'll be OK with it," he said.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org