Dartmouth's Daily Blog
News, commentary, criticism and praise for the College on the Hill, enlivened with history, culture and travel when we feel so moved.
This is an archived post. Please click here to see the latest entries.
Alcohol Enforcement: The Better Part of Power is Discretion*
How much freedom do the Hanover Police have to ignore non-vehicular student violations of the alcohol laws, like the tolerant police in Middlebury, Vermont? Well, it turns out that all laws are not equal — in that they are not equally enforced.
In fact, there is a well developped literature on the subject of police discretion: the freedom of police to ignore violations of an activity that is formally forbidden by the law. In his seminal work “Broken Windows” and Police Discretion, police reformer George Kelling, a part-time resident of the Upper Valley, cites the work of Warren LaFave (1965) and Kenneth Culp Davis (1969) who listed three possible criteria for what they called “nonarrest”:
— Police believe the legislature did not desire full enforcement.
— Police believe the community wants lenient or lax enforcement.
— Police believe other duties are more urgent or important.
A little reflection leads to numerous examples of the exercise of police discretion beyond the policies of the Middlebury police. As recently as 2005 Virginia had laws on the books outlawing fornication; Texas law forbade sodomy until the Lawrence case in 2003; and in Connecticut adultery was illegal and could theoretically result in a prison sentence until early in the 1990’s — yet these laws were rarely enforced, if ever.
Through the mid-1960’s, the sale of contraceptives, and even their use by married couples, was formally forbidden in Connecticut, but in order to elicit the fine that led to Griswold v. Connecticut, campaigners for personal privacy had to open a shop that so egregiously flouted the law that the police had no choice but to act.
Closer to home, any local policeman will tell you that driving in the low 70’s on an interstate highway will not get you in trouble, and if you take a whiff of the air at a Dartmouth rock concert, you will understand that the personal use of certain illegal substances has not been punished for decades by Safety & Security and the Hanover Police. [Full disclosure: I didn’t inhale]
A democratic society uses police discretion as a safety valve when a consensus develops that some laws are not rational. Call it the rule of common sense: safety and other considerations can be given priority over legal interpretations that produce unduly harsh results.
Could the Hanover Police invoke police discretion to overlook the consumption of alcoholic beverages by undergraduate students in a residential college setting? The answer is yes, given that just like Middlebury, every other Ivy League municipal police force already does so. Chief Giaccone’s officers would be on solid legal and precendential ground if they cut Dartmouth’s undergrads some slack. How about it, Chief?
*With apologies to the Bard. In 1 Henry IV, Part 1, Act 5, Scene 4, Falstaff says: “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have sav’d my life.”
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
- The Dartmouth College Case
- 2007 Trustee Election
- Dartmouth Constitution
- Sunday Morning Sinatra
- The Indian Wars
Subscribe by Email
This website reflects the personal opinions of its authors. Any e-mails received may be published along with the full name of the sender. If you wish otherwise, please say so.
All content appearing at Dartblog.com should be presumed copyright 2004-2018 its respective bylined author unless otherwise noted or unless linked to original source.