Jake Villarreal ’16 takes a deeper look at Trinity College’s close relationship with local police and questions whether it is the best way to deal with student crime.
For a while, in my home county of Monterey, Calif., medical marijuana was illegal. However, it was legal on a state level. But, it was illegal on a federal level. That meant that someone possessing or using marijuana faced a fine, imprisonment, nothing, a felony, or some combination, depending on which police happened to catch them in the act.
Crime and punishment on college campuses works in similar tiers: The consequences of me smoking a blunt, for example, are entirely different depending on whether evidence is discovered by my Resident Advisor, a Campus Safety officer, or the Hartford Police. In 2013, Trinity made an administrative and financial decision to refurbish the building at 130 New Britain Ave. and turn it into the Trinity College substation of the Hartford Police Department. This was done with a large financial contribution from Trinity. The substation increased the presence of police officers around Trinity, and continues to act as a hub for detectives who would otherwise be in the field.
The extra police officers are meant to deter and stop crime. They spend their time patrolling Frog Hollow, the Hartford neighborhood surrounding Trinity, not Trinity’s campus itself. Of course, they pay particular attention to the area directly bordering Trinity, since the substation is a partnership with the City of Hartford and Trinity College. It doesn’t make sense for Trinity to financially and institutionally support an additional police station instead of the methods for preventing and dealing with crime already available to us as an institution.
From a Hartford-centric perspective, the easiest and most constructive ways to prevent crime are by putting money into life-building services and safety nets like education, after-school activities and mental health counseling. Given that Trinity has already opened the floodgates of donating to public institutions, why would they make the choice to finance a police station instead? The increase in police officers, especially with the Trinity College name attached to them, has only furthered animosity between Trinity and the surrounding neighborhood.
Since most Trinity students don’t leave far enough off campus to be victims of off-campus crime, though this does happen on occasion, the move makes even less sense considering the money could have been spent on on-campus staff and services for preventing crime, especially since in the case of emergencies, the Hartford police are still available. There are just more of them with the additional substation.
Besides Hartford’s interests, this move isn’t in the best interest of Trinity either. It would not be a controversial statement to say that the people who commit the most crime on Trinity’s campus and in the immediate area surrounding the college are Trinity students. The financial and institutional partnership between Trinity College and the Hartford Police Department to create the new substation on New Britain Ave. means that more Trinity students are going to have to deal with the police instead of on-campus resources when it comes to illicit activities, such as fake ID possession, illegal drug use and underage drinking.
It could be argued that these problems being brought to the police have some benefits. There’s the additional deterrence of facing a potentially life-ruining felony as opposed to a strike from campus safety, the possibility of torts for the victim in cases like sexual assault where there is a clear harm done, and the retributive aspect of more severe punishment. If these could be considered benefits, all of them can be equally fulfilled with 911 calls and responders or investigators already, and are not unique to patrol officers.
Instead, Trinity should put money into staffing and improving on-campus resources that stop, prevent, or deal with crime like the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct, which is already doing great work. Trinity could use dedicated resources to help students rehabilitate from the chronic use of drugs like cocaine, or at least discuss safety in casual use. This could take the form of a student club, a health center campaign or working group, or a student government committee, but any option would need funding.
Deferring to more police as a mechanism to keep Trinity students safe is an incorrect decision, and if possible, should be rescinded. As movements like Black Lives Matter show, an increase in police officers makes Frog Hollow, a predominantly black and Latino community, less safe as well. Besides recent videos circulating on Facebook of Hartford Police brutalizing people during routine arrests, the trail of violence stretches back to at least April 13, 1999, when an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by Officer Robert Allan. He would later become Lieutenant Allan, the Hartford Police’s South District Commander, who orchestrated the partnership between Trinity and the Hartford Police.