Police at the University of West Georgia are cracking down on crime, and for good reason.
In 2012, underage consumption of alcohol rose to almost 200 percent from 93 arrests in 2011 to 181. Driving under the influence (DUI) arrests sky rocketed almost 700 percent from nine arrests in 2011 to 60 in 2012, and open container arrests grew from four in 2011 to 18. Alcohol isn’t the sole cause of arrests, however. Drug violations more than doubled from 38 arrests in 2011 to 78.
“A lot of the officers have become more aggressive in stopping DUIs,” said Chief of Police, Thomas J. Mackel. “We’ve had a number of people, a lot are students, coming through driving with alcohol.”
Officers aren’t the only people who are attuned to the crime on campus; more students are reporting crime, said Mackel.
“More people are saying they don’t want it in their residence hall,” said Mackel. “We have students who complain about their roommate who has marijuana and they don’t want to be associated with it.”
On-campus DUIs are a big cause for concern on UWG’s campus. While DUIs are usually considered to be alcohol related, Mackel said that they are seeing more marijuana-associated DUIs.
“A good number of our DUIs aren’t university [students], they’re just locals driving through campus,” said Mackel. “The vast majority of what we get is marijuana arrests. We’re seeing a significant increase in people who are driving down the road and you can smell the marijuana coming out of cars.”
States such as Colorado and Washington that have legalized marijuana haven’t seen a decrease in drug arrests as first presumed, Mackel said. Unlike alcohol, UWG’s officers have no tools to detect marijuana in a person’s system.
“One of the problems is there is no technology,” said Mackel. “When somebody is caught driving under the influence of marijuana, they have to do a field sobriety test. If you’re drunk, we can take you down to the jail, where you can blow into the machine. With marijuana it’s much harder.”
With a blood test, officers can’t tell if the THC, the active chemical in marijuana, in the person’s system was recently smoked, or from a few weeks prior.
“Another problem with marijuana is we can find it in a blood test,” said Mackel. “THC hangs in your system, so if you smoke it, it’ll be in your system for up to three weeks. So, was the THC in your blood test just smoked or is it from a couple of weeks ago? Until [someone] can come up with a test, it’ll be difficult to tell.”
The test that Mackel spoke of may come to UWG’s campus sooner than predicted. According to UsNews.com, a Swedish device can detect 12 different controlled substances through a breathing test. The device can detect drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
The device, which has no known release date yet, has been able to correctly detect drug use in 87 percent of cases.
But because the device hasn’t been released yet, UWG officers have to rely on using their own instincts to decide if a person is under the influence or not.
“We have more people turned to our attention, staggering down the street. The officers notice them because a lot aren’t hard to see.”
A different but more dangerous problem than people being visibly intoxicated is the level of their blood alcohol content (BAC). Mackel said that the officers have noticed a trend of drastically high BAC during these arrests.
“These aren’t .08 BAC, these are .09 and .10,” said Mackel. “We’re talking about .20 and above, so two to three times higher that level that you shouldn’t be driving. Driving is one thing, but even being at that level walking around is bad. You have the potential for falling down, for becoming a victim of crime and more importantly, just the medical issues that are related to it.”
Mackel gave an example of a student with a BAC of .209 when he was pulled over with friends. The student’s BAC rose to .369 when he arrived at the hospital and was still rising.
“You’re getting towards that level of death,” said Mackel “It’s not unusual to come up with students who literally are in the .20 and above. We’re trying to be aggressive on that as far as keeping somebody from dying.”
Editor’s Note: This article features moderations that were not listed in the October 28, 2013 (Vol. 68, Issue 8) version of this article.