FYI: Appalachian's Alcohol & Drug Arrest Stats - Behind the Numbers

On January 31,, published a story about colleges with the most on-campus drug and alcohol arrests. Business Insider found this information on the website, which published a set of infographics and maps using arrest data gathered from the Department of Education. Appalachian was on the list, coming in at number 11 on the list of most on-campus drug arrests per 1,000 students and number 28 on the list of most on-campus alcohol arrests per 1,000 students. On February 5, our student newspaper, The Appalachian, picked up the story as well. These things make great headlines, but the headline dissipates and all that's left is an overall impression - one that may be superficial. We wanted to dig into this a little further, so we asked Appalachian's Chief of Police Gunther Doerr and Wellness Promotion Coordinator Kendal McDevitt to join us, to talk a bit about these rankings and what they mean for our community here at Appalachian.


  • Interviewer Megan Hayes: On January 31,, published a story about colleges with the most on-campus drug and alcohol arrests. Business Insider found this information on the website, which published a set of infographics and maps using arrest data gathered from the Department of Education. Appalachian was on the list, coming in at number 11 on the list of most on-campus drug arrests per 1,000 students and number 28 on the list of most on-campus alcohol arrests per 1,000 students. On February 5, our student newspaper, The Appalachian, picked up the story as well. These things make great headlines, but the headline dissipates and all that's left is an overall impression - one that may be superficial. We wanted to dig into this a little further, so we asked Appalachian's Chief of Police Gunther Doerr and Wellness Promotion Coordinator Kendal McDevitt to join us, to talk a bit about these rankings and what they mean for our community here at Appalachian. Chief Doerr, thanks for joining us today.

    Chief of Police Gunther Doerr: My pleasure.

    Hayes: Chief, I would like to begin by pulling these numbers or putting these numbers into context. Can you tell me a little bit about how the Department of Education even gets these numbers?

    Doerr: Sure. First of all, just to clarify, these are for the calendar year 2011, January through December.

    Hayes: Wow, so these numbers are almost three years old then.

    Doerr: Correct. Every year, every university/college that receives federal funding is required to submit to the Department of Education an annual security report under the Clery Act. Part of that report includes the past three years worth of crime statistics. Included in those crime statistics are arrests and referrals, referrals being referrals to student conduct for students on campus for violations of alcohol laws, drug laws and weapons laws. The numbers that they recorded in their study were taken from the Department of Education website that posts those nationwide for every school.

    Hayes: One of the things, obviously, that I noticed looking at the website is that we’re the only North Carolina school on the list.

    Doerr: Well, we try not to compare ourselves to other schools. Each university is unique. When you look at these numbers, there are a lot of factors that people need to take into account as an example. What the Clery Act requires when we report is that we collect arrest data from all law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction on our campus. These numbers would include any arrests that the Town of Boone made, the Watauga County Sherriff’s Office made, the state ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement), and ASU Police. We’ve got a good relationship with our agencies and they are very quick to respond to our requests for data. We also have a very active Alcohol Law Enforcement on our campus. Typically, high numbers of citations and arrests are recorded by the ALE officers as well.

    Hayes: What you’re saying is that we go out and we ask for these numbers of our different law enforcement agencies, the numbers come in, we aggregate them and we self-report those numbers back out.

    Doerr: Yes, that’s a requirement to be in compliance with the Clery Act, Federal Law. One of the things that this report did not do, did not address, are what are called referrals. Some institutions’ policies allow them to refer to their conduct office instances of violations of alcohol and drug laws, which other institutions may end up charging criminally. To clarify the term “arrest” here, under this definition, arrest includes, basically, an alcohol citation or a “drinking ticket” as some students would call it. So, that is considered an arrest, anything that goes through the criminal court system. It’s not that we’re putting people in handcuffs and dragging them to jail. They’re getting, in most cases, just a written citation for violating the North Carolina alcohol and drug laws. Some campus law enforcement agencies might have a zero-tolerance policy, and other institutions may have a more lenient, discretional policy. So, there are some variances in terms of how enforcement is done. Most universities would, at least at a minimum, be referring a student to conduct, if it is a student. Speaking of students, the other piece to remember is that these members are not just students. These numbers reflect anyone who violates a drug or alcohol law that comes onto our campus. Some institutions bring 30,000-40,000-50,000 people onto their campus on the weekend. If there is strong enforcement of alcohol laws, those numbers would be included in those arrest totals. Again, we’re not just addressing students, we’re addressing anybody who comes on our campus and violates those laws.

    Hayes: I was wondering about that because the way that this number was being reported is it’s the most on-campus arrests per 1,000 students, which would lead me to think these are all, obviously, students because they are using that as a metric for measurement. But, visitors to our campus?

    Doerr: Oh, absolutely. Anyone that is just driving through and using Rivers St. as a cut-through that may get stopped for running a red light or stop sign. If there is alcohol on their breath, it could be a drunk driving charge. There are certainly a lot of scenarios where folks who have no affiliation with the university could be arrested or charged for violating drug or alcohol laws.

    Hayes: Does the fact that we have higher arrest rates mean that we have higher incidence rates?

    Doerr: That’s a tough question. I don’t think so. I think if you really look at combining arrest with referral rates throughout the UNC system, we’re certainly in the top 50%, but we’re not the number one institution. Again, other institutions appear to be using the referral process a fair amount. I think, again, do we have more instances of alcohol and drug violations? I don’t think so. I think we’re a, quote, “typical” undergraduate dominated four-year institution that has 18-22-year-olds who are going to experiment with and use drugs and alcohol. Any student, regardless of if they’re referred, or if they’re written a state citation, will get referred. The state citation acts as a referral. But we do have officer discretion on our campus where if it is a very minor or questionable offense, or if it is not a violation of North Carolina law, they would get referred. I’ll give you just an example. It’s not something we see very often, but it could happen. The university has a policy that no kegs are allowed on campus. You could have a 21-year-old, in theory, that has a keg that’s violated the university alcohol laws and they would be referred for violated the alcohol policy. That would not be an arrest.

    Hayes: So, where do they get referred to?

    Doerr: Student Conduct Office

    Hayes: I see. So, then they enter the University’s Student Conduct System. Chief, we’re ranked eleventh on the list for arrests for drug violations on campus. What kind of drugs are we talking about here?

    Doerr: Probably about 95% of the drug violations we encounter on Appalachian’s campus are marijuana - small quantities of marijuana, not felony quantities. The other 5%, the next highest, would probably be prescription violations – drugs that are prescribed that are not being properly used or are being abused. Very occasionally, we will see some serious, narcotic-type drugs – LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, occasionally even there will be a hint of heroin, but the vast majority is marijuana.

    Hayes: When someone gets in trouble for an alcohol or drug violation, what happens?

    Doerr: Well, on our campus, a typical scenario would be after the bars close, those students who live on campus are returning to their residence hall and as they are stumbling into their residence hall, intoxicated, if there is an issue that a residence hall advisor or director identifies and has a concern with, they typically call ASU police, we respond, and if the person is under 21, then they are probably going to get a citation for underage violation of alcohol laws. If they are so intoxicated that there is a concern for their safety or health, we will call medics and have them evaluated. Some students may get taken to the emergency room for treatment. That would be a typical scenario for us.

    Hayes: So really the Resident Assistants and Resident Directors are likely to give you a call if they are concerned about a student, even if they are not sure, maybe, what the situation is?

    Doerr: Correct. Typically it would be noise complaints, where they are coming in and waking everybody up, and it is obvious that there has been some type of drug or alcohol violation. The other side of the coin would be if it is a marijuana situation, a lot of those are, again, initiated by our housing staff where there is an odor within a particular floor or hallway, they will call ASU Police to respond, to check out that concern.

    Hayes: We are not really expecting those RA’s and RD’s who are students to have to manage that problem. That’s where you come in and support them in managing.

    Doerr: We do a significant amount of training every year with the RA’s and RD’s to make sure that we do not put them in harms way. If they are uncomfortable in dealing with someone who may or may not be unruly, or whose behavior is questionable, we are quick to say, “Give us a call and let us intervene,” so they are not responsible for putting themselves in harms way.

    Hayes: Do you think being in a rural area has a difference on the numbers?

    Doerr: I think there is certainly a possibility that could reflect on our numbers. As I look at our environment, we have several bars that are within walking distance of the university. We have a fair amount of off-campus activity in terms of parties that take place. Again, I reiterate, that typical scenario, it is the student that is returning to campus after a night of partying that has created, or is engaging in some type of behavior, that brings them to the attention of law enforcement. They are the ones who are really getting the citations and getting the referrals. We are committed to trying to keep our campus safe. If that means we need to enforce drug and alcohol laws to do that, that is what we are going to do.

    Hayes: Kendall McDevitt, you are the Wellness Promotion Coordinator here at Appalachian. I appreciate you joining us this morning.

    Wellness Promotion Coordinator Kendall McDevitt: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

    Hayes: What is it that we are doing here, on campus, to address drug and alcohol problems and - for lack of a better word - spin-off problems, that happen from drug and alcohol use? Our chancellor has been very clear to say that student health and safety is his number one priority here on campus. A huge part of that is just trying to address these problems before they happen. Can you talk a little bit about the prevention measures that are going on?

    McDevitt: What we have learned through the years, especially through public health research, is that information and awareness about negative consequences alone does not change behavior on a large scale. Now it may change some individual behaviors, but when we are looking at population level behavior change, prevention on that scale, education is one important component, but alone, it cannot affect the kind of change we are talking about.

    Hayes: Enforcement is what changes behavior on a large scale, and there were all these factors in the years leading up to 2011 that lead to more awareness and enforcement. People who were here, I know, remember that time, seeing a law enforcement presence at the bars, convenience stores, football games. Can you talk about some of the things that were going on during that time, specifically?

    McDevitt: There was a period of time when Appalachian was involved in a study, called The Study to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences. During that time, our campus was surveyed every year through Wake Forest’s medical school about many of these issues. During the period of 2005 and 2010, in our community, we stepped up efforts to increase compliance checks in the restaurants in town – compliance checks meaning that Alcohol Law Enforcement would observe and ensure that the staff in restaurants were carding and were engaging in responsible beverage service. They would not serve to someone who was intoxicated, for example. So, during that period of time, in which we were increasing compliance checks, we created this policy where we were increasing – this is part of public health prevention, you develop a policy, so there was the policy. The next is that you enforce it. So, we worked with Boone Police and Alcohol Law Enforcement and we increased the enforcement. That is the second piece of a public health prevention approach. The third piece is education and awareness. We let people know this was happening. We engaged them in discussion and conversation. We got their input. We also educated students about the 21-year-old drinking age, and we let them know the consequences should they use a fake I.D. or drink underage. So, during that five year period, we saw almost a 20% decrease in drunkenness.

    Hayes: 20%?

    McDevitt: 20% decrease in drunkenness among our students. Also, we saw a 6% increase in those who believed they would get carded and caught at off-campus restaurants, and simultaneously saw a 6% decrease in the students, the underage students, who were patronizing these bars.

    Hayes: So, the numbers that you are quoting here are specific to behavior and not necessarily to arrests.

    McDevitt: Correct. This is self-reported data from The Study to Prevent Alcohol Related Consequences that occurred on our campus.

    Hayes: What data do we have about how these measures have changed not only arrest rates, but also behavior on our campus?

    McDevitt: Our data shows that, on our campus, when enforcement increases, negative consequences decrease. When law enforcement can intervene, we can actually prevent those problems. We have seen a steady decrease in negative consequences on our campus since the last round of data in 2009, 2011 and 2013. If you compare all of those years, our data related to consequences, is significantly lower. We come at these prevention issues not from a place of morality, but from a place of caring for each other. We do not want to see anyone get hurt. We do not want to see anyone be assaulted, get in a car wreck, end up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning. I think, from that perspective of care and concern, when we learn to approach each other from that compassionate place, we find that we get much better results in the end in terms of preventing behavior.

    Hayes: Right. So, as part of this prevention campaign, I remember in 2012, the university began a very concerted effort to emphasize the significance and importance of peer-to-peer intervention. By-stander programs, like the It’s Up to Me campaign, were implemented on a large scale, right?

    McDevitt: With these by-stander programs, if everyone takes responsibility for making this campus safer and healthier, all of the students out there, all of the faculty members who come in contact with students and the staff members, somebody usually sees something or notices something before we see that negative outcome. So, if we can all internalize that message, then working together, we can prevent some of these problems. We can get people the help and the resources they need before it turns into an enormous problem.

    Hayes: We are asking our students to take a risk by calling for help, though. It’s easy for us to sit here and say, “Call for help if you need it.” But, in a way, they’re ratting out their friends, and maybe even themselves.

    Doerr: In North Carolina, they have just recently passed legislation that actually provides amnesty for someone who calls for medical or law enforcement to assist a person. If that person who makes that call is under 21 and has been consuming, they are provided amnesty for any kind of law enforcement action just to make sure the person gets medical treatment or assistance. That includes drugs or alcohol, actually.

    Hayes: So, if I’m an underage student and my roommate is acting in a way that is concerning me, maybe they are intoxicated…”

    Doerr: Passed out, intoxicated and potentially going into some type of alcohol poisoning – by making that call, just because you have been consuming and you are under 21, you are not going to be charged.

    Hayes: Wow, that’s really good to know.

    McDevitt: This law is new, but Appalachian has had an alcohol medical amnesty policy on our campus for several years now.

    Doerr: Two or three, yeah.

    McDevitt: The idea is the same. It is specific to alcohol, but the idea is the same. If a person who is underage and has been consuming alcohol calls to get help for a friend who may be in trouble with alcohol, that person will not be sanctioned by the Office of Student Conduct. Now, that also applies to the student who is taken to the hospital, but only once. The rationale there is that, maybe a student gets carried away one time. But if we see them drinking to the point in which they are poisoned by alcohol more than once, then it becomes pattern. And then, from a place of care and concern, not morality, but care and concern, we feel like that student probably needs to be seen by a counselor.

    Doerr: Well, I need to clarify that.

    Hayes: Okay.

    Doerr: Unfortunately, North Carolina law does not address, for alcohol, the victim. If a person is consuming alcohol underage and is taken for medical treatment, the statute does not say that that person has amnesty, only the person who has requested medical assistance.

    Hayes: So, they may be exempt from student conduct, but not from any consequences that happen from the state of North Carolina.

    Doerr: On the other side, for drug overdoses, the victim is given amnesty. So, I’m not clear why our legislators chose to do that for drug overdoses and not alcohol, but if a student were to be a victim of a drug overdose, then the person calling, as well as the victim, have amnesty, if it is a misdemeanor amount.

    Hayes: Okay, this can be a little confusing, but it sounds like to me, basically, we need to let people know: don’t be afraid that you’re going to get in trouble. Keep in mind that it is all about the safety of your friend and, ultimately, if you end up saving someone’s life it might be worth getting in trouble. But, it is likely that you won’t, and it is also possible that they won’t. So, you may as well pick up the phone and get help when you feel like you need help.

    Doerr: Clearly, the person calling is not going to get in trouble.

    Hayes: Well thanks so much! I really, really appreciate your time today. Thank you both very much for joining us. This is one of our FYI podcasts, and this is a series that we produced just to talk about items of interest for our campus community. There are clearly larger, more lasting implications. I think the story we are telling here is not a story that is unique to Appalachian. It is a national story. Maybe some of our approaches are unique, maybe they’re not. But, what we’re doing here, clearly, to me, shows that we want to make a difference in the lives of our students. It is important that safety is our top priority for our students here at Appalachian. I appreciate both of you being here today to talk about ways that we are doing that. Thank you very much!

    On our next FYI podcast, we continue this conversation and bust some of the myths about how many students engage in risky behavior and how the justice system and the student conduct system work.