Ohio State University police rarely make drug arrests in residential halls even when they catch students red-handed.
The Dispatch analyzed six years of federal Clery Act crime statistics — 2008 through 2013 — involving five Ohio universities with on-campus housing and found that:
• During the six-year period, Ohio State has had less than a third of the number of drug arrests in residential halls that Kent State recorded in 2013 alone.
• Ohio State recorded only four arrests resulting from drug-law violations at residential facilities in 2013. That was the fewest number of arrests among the universities studied, though with close to 58,400 students in 2013, Ohio State is twice the size of the next-largest, Kent State, with about 29,200 students, according to data from the Ohio Board of Regents. Ohio University had 51 arrests; Miami University, 45; Kent State, 82; and Bowling Green State University had 62.
• Ohio State made six arrests in 2009. That was its highest number of arrests in the six years. The lowest was in 2008, with two arrests.
• Ohio State police arrested fewer than one student for drug violations in residence halls out of every 10,000 students enrolled in 2013. That stood apart from Ohio’s other four large public colleges with substantial residential campuses. At Kent, Bowling Green, OU and Miami, police arrested 26 students, on average, for drug crimes in dorm rooms for every 10,000 enrolled.
The Dispatch also compared the rate of arrests with the total number of students living in campus housing, based on data provided by the Board of Regents.
The four other universities each arrested about nine people in residence halls, on average, out of every 1,000 on-campus residents, while Ohio State arrested fewer than one.
That doesn’t mean that Ohio State students used drugs less frequently. It’s just that campus police did not arrest them when students were found with drugs or drug paraphernalia.
The Dispatch reviewed all drug-related violations that occurred in Ohio State’s residence halls in 2013, a total of 35 reports, and found that:
• Campus police reports show drug offenses mostly involve marijuana. In most cases, students or individuals caught with drugs or paraphernalia in residence halls were either “given advice” or requested to cooperate, resulting in no criminal charges.
Officers more frequently referred those cases to the university’s Department of Student Conduct within Ohio State’s Office of Student Life.
“The smell of burnt marijuana was overpowering standing outside the room,” one officer wrote in his report.
“I asked if I could come in the room and all four occupants agreed. I then told all four of them why we were there and explained that they were not under arrest and if they were honest and turned over all of the drugs and paraphernalia, I explained that it would be sent to student conduct but they were not to be charged criminally.”
In another case, a student was released without being charged after he admitted selling drugs to other Ohio State students.
“He then pulled out two Bell mason jars, each containing a small amount of marijuana. I asked him if this was all. He then pulled out a portable ... scale."
The officer reported the student admitted to purchasing about an ounce of marijuana for $300 each month. The student said he sells it to Ohio State students for $15 a quantity, likely a gram, from which he makes about $100 a month.
"He stated he buys his marijuana on campus, and sells it on campus. He said he saves the money from his sales and has approximately $2,000 total in his bank accounts.
“I confiscated the jars, scale, rolling papers, grinders and marijuana … Refer to student conduct. Closed.”
A university spokesman said no Ohio State policy requires officers to refer drug violations to the university’s student conduct process rather than filing criminal charges.
“Our officers evaluate each instance on a case-by-case basis,” campus police Chief Paul Denton said. “OSU Police understand the challenges presented by a college campus and work hard to provide a safe environment while building and maintaining a level of trust among the campus community.”
Ohio State had 398 disciplinary referrals in 2013, the highest number of disciplinary referrals since 2008.
Disciplinary action for students found in violation may include formal reprimand, disciplinary probation or dismissal from the university, said Gary Lewis, a university spokesman. But not all students who are referred are found to be in violation of the university’s code of student conduct.
“The Ohio State University takes alcohol and drug misconduct seriously, which is indicated by our high disciplinary numbers,” the university said in a statement. “Our comprehensive approach is focused on vigorous prevention, education and treatment, and we refer all cases for student discipline and, when appropriate, criminal prosecution.”
Bowling Green Police Chief Monica Moll said her department generally issues citations when drugs, mainly marijuana, are involved and there is enough evidence to file a charge.
“If they have enough, for a joint or a one-hitter, something enough for that one person to get high, then we charge them with a crime,” Moll said. “If they are a first-time offender, they can work through the court system and the diversion program.”
Moll, who brought in the more black-and-white policy when she became chief almost five years ago, said the only time her officers would not charge students for drug crimes was when there would only be “stems and seeds.”
“We’ve sort of taken away a little bit of the discretion away from the officer … and told them that we should always be issuing a citation now.”
Charging students and placing them in a diversion program is a more-consistent approach, which would eliminate any double standards in cases involving nonstudents, Moll said.
Sam Shamansky, a Columbus criminal-defense lawyer, said it is very reasonable to put student offenders through the university’s disciplinary process instead of criminal courts since most cases involve only small amounts of marijuana.
“I believe that’s an appropriate way to proceed,” Shamansky said. “Why turn somebody’s life on end for that kind of conduct when you can run them through the judicial-conduct system at the university and have a more hands-on approach that recognizes that a bad choice was made, and the student is subject to rehabilitation within the university judicial system?”
But Kent State students also can expect criminal charges and citations if drugs are involved, said Nancy Shefchuk, a sergeant with the campus police. Officers at Kent State would also forward the case to the university’s student conduct.
“We found this to be an effective way here,” Shefchuk said.
Courts in Portage County also have diversion programs that use an educational approach to help students stop committing drug-related crimes, she said.
“We’re just looking to best serve the community and have that work with the students in an educated way to modify their behavior,” Shefchuk said.