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Drug arrests at UND above average, data show: Campus police cite aggressive response for higher arrest rate

GRAND FORKS -- In recent years, the University of North Dakota has seen more drug-related arrests on average than at comparable institutions, which campus police attribute to their more aggressive response.

In 2012, about four out of every 1,000 UND students were arrested compared to two of every 1,000 students at four-year public institutions nationwide, according to the Grand Forks Herald’s analysis of data from the Office of Postsecondary Education.

Of the drug-related arrests that year at North Dakota public institutions, including two-year colleges, 69 percent happened at UND.

UND Police Chief Eric Plummer said it’s important to note that 44 percent of the arrests in 2012 were of people who weren’t affiliated with UND in any way. Local law enforcement takes the issue very seriously, he said.

“Drug and alcohol use and abuse is a problem in almost any community, and universities are no different,” he said.

Aggressive police

Office of Postsecondary Education data shows the number of drug-related arrests every year at four-year public institutions in North Dakota has yo-yoed before increasing sharply in recent years.

The institutions included in these statistics are North Dakota State University, Mayville State University, Minot State University and Valley City State University. The number of students on campus plays a big part, but even compared to a university with comparable enrollment such as NDSU, UND’s numbers are substantially higher with 22 more arrests in 2010, 66 more in 2011 and 39 more in 2012.

The number of drug-related arrests at comparable schools in surrounding states is also lower than at UND. In 2012, UND had 61 arrests while South Dakota State University had 50, the University of Minnesota-Duluth had 51 and the University of Montana had 47.

In recent years, there have been some high profile cases involving UND students. In 2011, the UND chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity was suspended for two years after police informants bought marijuana there.

In 2012, several people involved with a gang producing synthetic drugs that killed two teens in Grand Forks were arrested by university police. They were former students but were not students at the time.

Plummer attributes UND’s arrests to a more aggressive police force and a partnership with their counterparts in Grand Forks County, the city of Grand Forks and a regional drug task force. “We try to be proactive here at this university.”

He said most drug-related arrests at UND involved marijuana or possession of paraphernalia, but prescription drug arrests have been on the rise.

“They’re coming into a population where they have roommates that might have legal prescription,” he said. “Then that’s where you have abuse of legal prescriptions.”

Grand Forks police Lt. Jim Remer said city police assist the university “as needed” and both agencies have members on the drug task force.

Positive choices

Surveys show that a significant minority of college students have used drugs. A U.S. Department of Health survey found that 22 percent of college students age 18 to 22 reported using illicit drugs in 2012. A National Institute on Drug Abuse survey found that 19 percent of people age 18 to 25 reported using marijuana.

The Office of Postsecondary Education data shows the number of drug-related arrests at universities nationwide is less than 1 percent of the number of students enrolled, which suggests many use drugs but few are caught.

Jane Croeker, UND’s health and wellness promotion director, said the university’s student surveys show only about 1 percent had used hard drugs, such as cocaine, in the last 90 days.

“I think we do students a disservice when we portray them as drug users,” she said.

Marijuana use, on the other hand, is slightly more common, with about 10 percent of students reporting they had smoked it in the last 90 days.

Croeker attributes this to a nationwide shift in perception. “There is an increasing acceptance of marijuana along with a decreased perception of the risks,” she said. “It can actually cause memory loss and make it harder to concentrate.”

While the surveys are self-reported and it’s possible for students to exaggerate their drug use, Croeker said even if one student engaged in these behaviors, the school needs to reach out and provide help.

She said the university offers a variety of counseling services and extracurricular activities, which she sees as instrumental in keeping stress to a minimum on campus. “Emphasizing the positive choices and constructive ways people can address the stress in their life ... rather than resorting to alcohol and other drugs is an important piece of the puzzle.”

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.