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Breaking: Hanover Alters Alcohol Arrest Policy; Ends Town Diversion Program

Hanover Badge.jpgIn an interview with Dartblog last week, Hanover Chief of Police Charlie Dennis confirmed significant changes in the Town of Hanover’s enforcement of laws relating to underage drinking. Since October, underage students who are taken by Safety & Security to Dick’s House due to overconsumption of alcohol, and then transported onward by ambulance to DHMC, will neither be arrested by Hanover Police nor sent to a diversion program. The only exception to this rule will be in the case of students who are unruly and disruptive to the extent that Hanover Police officers are called in for assistance by S&S.

Over the past decade, hundreds of Dartmouth students have been arrested after being transported to DHMC and in other incidents involving underage drinking — in contrast to other Ivy towns where few, if any, alcohol-related arrests have be made. However in the past several years in Hanover students who are not repeat offenders have been offered the choice of arrest or participation in the Town’s in-house diversion program. As Dartblog has reported, in either situation, students come away with a record that must be noted on their applications to many graduate school programs.

Chief Dennis said that he concluded that students being transported from Dick’s House to DHMC are already under medical care, and therefore police intervention is unnecessary and unwarranted under New Hampshire law. Since his arrival in Hanover this past summer, the Chief has consulted with various municipal police departments; he found that other police forces have come to a similar conclusion: for example, officers in the City of Lebanon do not intervene when underage drinkers are brought to DHMC.

Additionally, in the face of persistent accusations that the Town ran its own diversion program as a profit-making operation — unfounded according to Chief Dennis and his predecessor Chief Nick Giaccone — the Chief has decided to end Hanover’s diversion program as of January 1, 2015. The last session was held immediately prior to Thanksgiving. The Town of Hanover 2013 annual report details the already-declining participation by Dartmouth students in the program:

Hanover Diversion Historical.jpg

Henceforth, underage drinkers who are prosecuted for breaking the alcohol consumption laws will be directed to the Valley Court diversion program (VCDP). The cost for participation in this program is $275; in past years the Hanover program has charged $400 for its services.

In making these two important changes, the Town has now aligned its alcohol enforcement policies with the other Ivies and schools like Middlebury. By significantly reducing the disincentives faced by students in taking advantage of the College’s Good Samaritan program, students can now freely avail themselves of medical care in situations of overconsumption. Safety is now Hanover’s top priority, rather than punitive enforcement.

Good move, Chief Dennis.

Erratum: Previously I had posted above that the cost of Valley Court diversions was $175. This figure was inaccurate. The cost of VC’s services for Dartmouth students will be $275. Chief Dennis wrote in to explain why:

The court diversion program listed at $175.00 is for misdemeanor cases such as theft, shoplifting, assault, etc… Hanover Police in the past and currently do not refer those types of cases to diversion. The only HPD cases that are currently eligible for diversion are alcohol and cannabis. Both of those programs are $275.00 each and require risk assessments and classroom education. I imagine that is why there is a cost difference. I believe that most cases involving Dartmouth students are alcohol related and would fall under the Alcohol Safety Program at Valley Court Diversion.

Addendum: A thoughtful parent of two Dartmouth students has shared a note that he sent today to Chief Dennis:

Dear Chief Dennis,

I’m a Dartmouth parent, and I just wanted to say that I applaud the steps you’ve taken since taking office to reduce the Hanover Police presence on the Dartmouth campus as it relates to alcohol-related issues.

I am not a college president or a chief of police. I am just a parent of three children, two of whom attend(ed) Dartmouth. Among the things I knew the moment I dropped them off at school were 1) they were compassionate and smart young adults and 2) they were highly likely to consume alcohol prior to their 21st birthday. Therefore, the only thing I cared about was that the environment in which they were (likely) consuming alcohol would be as safe as possible.

I am a huge believer and supporter of the “Good Sam” policy at Dartmouth. Encouraging students to reach out for help to S&S or 911 when faced with a fellow student who appears dangerously impaired has to be the single most effective tool we have for preventing alcohol-related deaths. Further ensuring the Good Sam call is truly a “safe harbor” from legal consequences is critical for the widest possible utilization of the program. Eliminating the Diversions program with it’s $400 price and unnecessary involvement of the police will, I hope, increase the utilization of this important program.

In my very limited experience, the most dangerous drinking doesn’t occur in the crowded common areas of fraternity houses with beer, it occurs in the privacy of dorm rooms with hard alcohol. The more people, especially the more upper classmen who are around severely impaired students, the greater the likelihood that a potentially life-saving call will be made.

So, thank you for making this decision. We all must know that there is nothing we as a society can do to prevent underage consumption of alcohol. What we all should be doing is making decisions that reduce the risk of an alcohol-related fatality to as close to zero as we can. I honestly believe that the decisions you’ve made since becoming Chief will help further that primary objective - keeping our sons and daughters alive while at Dartmouth.

So thank you again and Happy New Year.

Addendum: The Valley News is now reporting on the story.

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