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University Police sees 118 percent increase in marijuana crimes

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By Madeline St. Amour

Asst. News Editor

theaspnews@gmail.com

Feb 3, 2015

   Between 2013 and 2014 there was an 118 percent increase in criminal reports related to marijuana possession made by the University at Albany Police Department, according to Deputy Chief Aran Mull.

    This number does not include cases where marijuana was present along with a more serious drug, like a narcotic, as UPD’s system would automatically file those cases under the greater offense.

   Of the 253 total arrests that UPD made in 2014, about 40 percent (102 total) were for marijuana possession. Also between 2013 and 2014, UPD had a 16.6 percent increase in drug complaints that led to no criminal reports because no evidence was found.

   Mull said that officers are not being more aggressive in making arrests when it comes to marijuana. While in the past there were directives sent out telling officers to arrest people who were caught with the drug, now officers are allowed to use their discretion and make referrals instead, he said.

   “[Now officers are] increasing the number of times they talk with people about drug use and dropping that arrest rate to 40 percent,” said Mull.

   Mull credits much of the increase in marijuana incidents to the community. UPD has had many more calls complaining about smoke or the smell of marijuana. In fact, almost 50 percent of the incidents happen because of a complaint.

   “Whether or not [marijuana’s] being used more, people are being more overt about it, that’s our belief,” said Mull.

  Dr. Dolores Cimini, director of the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, wrote in an email that the increase in marijuana incidents might also be related to an increase in marijuana use among college students.

   She cited a 2014 Monitoring the Future study, which looks at high schoolers and college students in the United States, and said that according to the study, “Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, 36 percent of respondents reported use in the past year, [and] 5.1 percent of respondents reported daily marijuana use.” Cimini also said that the legalization of marijuana in some states has been linked with an increase in use nationally.

   Mull said that another reason for the increase in marijuana-related criminal reports is the level of engagement that UPD and its officers have with the UAlbany community. He says that the officers are practicing “community policing,” meaning that they are “educating the community, engaging the community, and enforcing, when it’s appropriate, the law.”

   The current officers have set many records already by using this system, Mull said. Last year they made the most arrests, held the most programs, and did the most “PWTs,” which means Park, Walk, and Talks (when an officer gets out of the car and talks to people in the residence halls

   “When [officers] are out there talking to students . . . the reality is that they’re also running into students who are doing inappropriate things,” said Mull.

   UPD takes a multi-pronged approach on the prevention and education side for marijuana and drug use. Officers will hold programs, but then they will also go into residence halls and hand out pamphlets so that people that can’t make it to programs will get the information.

   “We’ve had a focus group here of students, and they’ve said one of the most powerful things that influences them was having an officer talk directly to them,” said Mull.

   Along with in-person contacts, UPD also utilizes social media messages and email blasts.

   “UPD is trying to better coordinate its efforts and synergize its information to reinforce the education that officers put out and make their points more salient,” said Mull.

   Moving forward, the Counseling Center is also taking steps toward preventing and curbing marijuana use and  will offer educational programs on the substance as well as include marijuana as part of its “social norms” campaign.

   The Center is also developing a new brief intervention program, Cimini said. It is called

STEPS 2.0 and would help students who currently use marijuana either cut down on the amount or quit altogether.

   “This is a program that will help students examine their consumption and identify ways they can support their health and reduce any risks associated with marijuana,” said Cimini.

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