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Explaining the process: all you need to know about room searches

Lily Iserson

Features Editor

 

Room searches conducted on campus can provoke a certain amount of anxiety — even a student who enjoys only the most innocuous weekend activities can empathize with the apprehension of being scrutinized by a College-employed officer and the fear that something less innocuous will surface.

Security officers check rooms based on anonymous tips, RA concerns or suspicious activity noticed during rounds, such as loud noises or peculiar odors.

“College officials are authorized to enter student residential spaces at any time for the purposes of investigating suspected violations of College policies,” said Kevin Cooper, a security supervisor employed since 2006. He has personally conducted or assisted in 30 complete searches over the course of his career.

The most important distinction in any room check is a plain view search versus a deep search. Security officers can always check a room or house if they detect “any violation of the code (Scot’s Key),” according to the Associate Director of Security and Protective Services (SPS) Joe Kirk. The College of Wooster is private property, so College officials can enter a room with cause.

In a plain view search, a security officer scans for substances that are obviously present by sight; in a deep search, a security officer has reason to suspect that drugs or weapons are present but not plainly visible.

According to Steve Glick, director of SPS, “We call a dean on call and ask any consent of the student if they’re present. … We don’t walk down the hall and arbitrarily pick a room trying to find a violation. There’s reason for us to be there.” Even if the student does not give consent to have their room checked, the officer will consult with a dean on call for permission should the security officer consider a deep search necessary.

“We understand that students are nervous,” admitted Glick. “A lot of officers don’t have a high comfort level searching other people’s rooms, but that’s part of the job.”

Students should remember that while security officers can remove alcoholic beverages from a residence, according to both Kirk and Glick, security officers cannot remove illegal substances from a room. If officers find marijuana, or other illegal drugs, officers must submit to Ohio laws by calling local law enforcement to remove the substance. According to Glick, security officers may also call law enforcement if the student possesses alcohol and they’re under the age of 21 — it fully depends on the security officer’s judgment at the time. Glick did add that they “only occasionally” call police when they find alcohol in a room.

Calls to law enforcement often result in a citation for the student. According to Steve Glick, a citation and arrest are not equivalent: “It is technically not an arrest in the state of Ohio … Wooster doesn’t count it as an arrest, Wooster counts it as a minor misdemeanor citation. In very technical terms, because you’ve been seized, it’s an arrest, but courts don’t see it as an arrest. Yes, it does go on your record, but your record can be expunged for a minor misdemeanor [some] years after it’s been issued.”

Carolyn Buxton, the Dean of Student Affairs, emphasized that “if you did something first semester and you were a model citizen since then, we’re more than willing to help you explain the citation in a letter of recommendation.”

Kirk specified that The College of Wooster only counts citations as arrests for Clery Crime Act statistics, which asks colleges to publish information relevant to crimes that take place on American college campuses.

If you receive a citation, you may also be in violation of the College’s code of social responsibility, based on the Scot’s Key. In such a case you may be subjected to College judicial consequences, depending on the level of the violation. Furthermore, a student will have to take an alcohol/drug course, according to Buxton — if a student has a continued problem with substance abuse, they may participate in Choices, a group program with 10-15 other students, or B.A.S.I.C.S., a one-on-one appointment with a counselor. Jess Ettell, the new Coordinator of Student Rights and Responsibilities on campus, can also “work with students to ensure that they have questions answered and feel supported” in these situations.

“If they feel like they’re not sure about something, they can always ask questions during the search,” Kirk added.

As uncomfortable as students may feel during a search, security officers have also had their share of awkward experiences. For instance, Cooper recalled a memory from a few years ago: “We received a call from a student that they could smell marijuana somewhere on their hall. We were able to determine that the odor was most likely coming from a particular room, and we made contact with the lone resident. The resident admitted to smoking marijuana in her room and I observed some other indicators that there were illegal items in the area.

“After receiving consent from her to conduct a search of the room, I came across a bag underneath her bed. The resident seemed very nervous about the contents … so I asked her what was in it. Her response was something along the lines of, ‘I’d rather not tell you.’ I proceeded to open it and found many ‘personal massage’ devices inside along with other equipment. One of the devices inadvertently turned on, and I struggled to turn it off, ultimately needing the resident’s assistance. I think I was just as embarrassed as the resident. …You just never know what you’re going to find during a search.”

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