The Arizona Desert Lamp

The Ex Post Facto Tag, and other fun changes.

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 10 August 2009

One might think that, in response to complaints of civil liberties violations and unduly targetted policing, the TPD would be inclined to scale back its operation. To the contrary, according to the Ward 3 Newsletter [PDF]:

To date, the following changes have been made to the current Red Tag Ordinance:

Anonymous calls made to 911 reporting and unruly gathering will no longer have a lower priority. Another change is the “day after” Red Tag. Response time is often affected when TPD Officers are responding to higher priority issues throughout the City. The “day after” ruling applies when garbage/litter is identified on the property initially reported as a loud party. In addition, Landlords will be held more accountable for problems associated with their property. Immediate notification is initiated, followed by a letter from TPD in the event of future prosecution. Copies of all Red Tag Reports are now forwarded to Ward III for tracking purposes. Other areas currently under research include code amendments, and building student-neighbor connections.

These changes were reported in October 2008 – apologies for missing the story (which we’ll blame on the untimely expiration of our W3N subscription). Nevertheless, these changes are important enough to merit further breaking down.

1. Higher prioritization of “unruly gatherings.” To get a sense of what TPD is up against, here is a chart of the total calls for service that the department has received since 1986 (source):

TPD Calls

In 2006, the Tucson Citizen wrote a story about the increasing burden on the TPD, which included the follow tidbit:

Often, dozens of low-priority cases await attention while police are repeatedly diverted by higher priority calls. With more than 400,000 calls a year, there are few breaks.

“You stick a Band-Aid on it and move on to the next one,” Payette said recently while driving to Tucson Medical Center to take two calls, a drug overdose and a reported sexual assault.

. . .

“We have to triage our services so we are available to deal with those life-and-death emergencies,” police Chief Richard Miranda said. “Where in the past the life-and-death emergency was the exception – maybe it happened once or twice a night – now it’s happening once or twice an hour.”

Each day, Tucson police take more than 1,000 calls, about two-thirds of them low-priority calls such as identity theft, burglary and car theft. On Oct. 20, dispatchers took 989 calls to 911, or about one every 90 seconds.

In the TPD’s eyes, citing an “unruly gathering” – i.e. five or more people conversing freely in a single location – now has a higher priority than burglary, car theft, and identity theft. It’s unclear where reports of marijuana use or underage drinking (sans other activity) fit in this hierarchy. When one wonders why Tucson seems so unsafe, there are worse places to start. Props go out to the TPD for reducing violent crime over the past few years – but this is a trend that should be continued, rather than diverted.

2. “Day-after red tags.” Officers issuing red tags already operate with a wide scope, but this expands it even further. The presence of litter, while perhaps correlated with noise, is by no means definitive evidence of unruly events the night prior. Whereas the former standard required actual evidence of unruliness, this new standard turns a report of noise into noise itself, so far as there is litter present – never mind how old, nor how much, there is. Given the low standards that red-tags have previously shown, it’s conceivable that police, receiving a noise complaint, could return the next day to the cited residence, and award a red-tag on the basis of a single beer bottle on the front stoop. The red-tag program is already fraught with due process issues, but this provision makes it even worse.

Looks like there's some academic violations afoot

Looks like there's some academic violations afoot.

3. Neighborhood Tracking. Generally, this should be a neighborhood-based problem, and by itself is not a bad thing. Yet the case of Rhode Island illustrates where this ends up:

Spatcher, the URI student, received a sticker after a January 2008 house party that drew the police following a fistfight outside.

David Keach, a fellow URI student who moved into the house later that year, said he believes the sticker put the property on the police department’s radar, encouraging officers to find additional infractions. Months later, the tenants were each fined $300 after another house party, though that penalty is being appealed.

. . .

“Although a ‘Nuisance House List’ with specific addresses has been maintained, no photographs, names or addresses are circulated to other neighbors,” DeSisto wrote.

If the Third Ward kept red-tag data to themselves, there would be no problem; but it would be rather surprising if weren’t used to single out “trouble houses,” as the Narragansett police have done. In the Rhode Island case, the dubious sins of the past residents were visited on future residents. For students this is bad, but for renters it is even worse: such singling out amounts to systematic devaluation of the property.

In light of all these provisions, it’s worth appreciating the irony of the last statement, calling for a strengthening of “student-neighbor relations.” Many Tucson residents seem to think that the best way to encourage such relations is by instituting a bevy of regulations designed to discipline and punish them. Rather than going out to students’ houses to ask them to turn it down, they find it easier to just call in the police – after all, who really wants to get out of bed for those damn kids?

Image courtesy of Flickr user mrkumm


Tucson’s Been Tagging You Too Long (To Stop Now)

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 7 August 2009

In the comments, former Wildcat editor Nickolas Seibel helpfully points out a 2004 Tucson Weekly piece detailing the practice of the Red Tag policy, which is far older than its associations with the University:

Tucson’s unruly party ordinance dates back to 1996, when the City Council imposed a 120-day red tag on offending properties, with subsequent and graduating fines if problems continued. Last February, the council bumped that up to 180 days, and allowed officers to issue a $100 citation on the first visit. If there are further offenses–such as having more than five people at the party house over those six months–fines can reach $1,000.

The cops defend the policy by saying that it’s “extremely effective” and “the number one way” to address the problems associated with partying. I don’t doubt it – just as I don’t doubt the assertion that adhering to the principles of the Fourth Amendment allows some criminals to get off scot-free. Yet this is hardly an argument against the principle of due process. In a free society, the rule of law always trumps the enforcement of the law.

The story is one of the Weekly‘s better ones, and you should read the whole thing. This, however, is an important point:

As a result, the ACLU has filed suit on his behalf. The red tag is violation of Haggerty’s right to due process, says Angie Polizzi, staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. In other words, he’s being punished with a scarlet letter before enjoying his date in court. “And we think it’s harassment, trying to impose responsibility on landlords, who really aren’t responsible” for parties on their property, Polizzi says. “The police can always cite somebody for disturbing the peace. But to go after the landlord … then the red tag stays on the property for 180 days–even if the tenant who caused the problem moves out.”

The case was dismissed in federal court, the court order of which can be read here. Yet the case wasn’t dismissed due to the merits of the red-tag program, but due to the fact that the issue was moot – the red-tag was issued in 2003, but the suit wasn’t filed until 2004. This was the only issue that the Court discussed in its decision, ignoring outright the debate over the policy itself. That’s actually a good thing – it means that this policy still has a chance of going down. Often, though, civil liberties groups run into problems finding plaintiffs, those who have standing and can cite direct damage from the issue at hand. If anyone reading this site does get a red tag this semester, we highly recommend that you at least give ACLU-Arizona a call, as soon as possible. Until then, there is little hope of ending the policy.

Perhaps prompted by this case, the TPD Citizens Review Board also filed a letter questioning the policy, in March 2004:

It appears that since many of the residents in ODM are college students they receive most of the red tags. This begs the questions: why are so many red tags given to students? Is it because they refuse to comply with a warning?

The best evidence that college students are willing and responsible enough to comply with a warning is highlighted by the same statistics provided by Captain Washington. By examining the number of repeat locations within the divisions we noted the following rates of repeat violators: ODS 11%, ODE 11%, ODM 9%, and ODW/ODD 8%. Surprisingly, the rate in ODM is lower than those in ODS and ODE. This data suggests that residents in ODM are less likely to be cited a second time than residents in ODE and ODS. Once college students are given a citation and, hence, made aware their conduct is causing a disturbance, they take the initiative to prevent a disturbance a second time. It is probable they would do this after a verbal warning versus a red tag citation.

Why, then, are warnings not given more often before issuing a red tag? Not only would this save students the hassle and consequences of a red tag in the first place, but it would foster a better relationship among students and officers.

All that being said, this casts the UA in an even worse light than before. In 2004, the Weekly published this article, detailing the ramifications of the policy as they were applied to a 16 year old’s birthday party where the mother was present, at a house rented by an former city councilman. The policy was contested by the ACLU, but was dismissed without addressing the civil liberty concerns. The review board was convinced that the policy punished college students disproportionately, and that warnings should be used in their place. The university, however, was unperturbed by such issues, and went though with a policy that linked the Dean of Students direcly with the Tucson Police Department, in the name of expanding the scope of the ostracism associated with what should be a simple civil infraction. Instead of helping their students to resolve issues civilly, the UA chose instead to throw the book at them.

Red Tags in the Ocean State

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 6 August 2009
Apparently, this pool has a capacity greater than five people.

Apparently, this pool has an occupancy capacity greater than five people.

From the Washington Examiner (via the AP):

The punishment, renters and homeowners in this beach town say, is tantamount to a scarlet letter: A large orange sticker plastered by police on homes that host raucous parties.

Police have cited more than 300 homes since 2005 under a town law aimed at curbing rowdy gatherings — especially among off-campus students from the nearby University of Rhode Island — and helping officers and neighbors more easily flag problem properties.

. . .

The law was modeled after a similar ordinance in Tucson, Ariz., intended to rein in underage drinking among University of Arizona students, said Tucson city prosecutor Alan Merritt.

Mr. Merritt, for better or worse, is unmitigatedly wrong in his assertion – the Rhode Island law precedes the existence of the Red Tag program, which didn’t start until 2007. Yet if Merritt is exactly wrong – i.e. the UA law was modeled off of the URI approach – then we might be getting a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

The scale of this operation is pretty astounding. Narragansett’s non-college population stands at 16,361, and the total number of college students at URI – many of which live on-campus – is 19,095. So far, the UA – despite claiming that the program would “have opportunities to share aggregate data” – has not released any data on total red tags; or, for that matter, any sort of evidence showing the efficacy of this program. It would be nice for some sort of report on red-tagging, but don’t your breath waiting. Yet it would be surprising if the Tuscon Police Department had gone this hog-wild in tagging – yet.

The good news, however, is that Rhode Islanders are opposing this policy, and the legal opposition is led by the ACLU. From an article on the matter back in July, the URI policy seems to share the same insipid connection between civil infractions and academic citations (even though the policy was originally enacted by the Town Council):

In September 2007, the Narragansett police determined that a house on Southwest Road, where two URI students lived, posed a public nuisance and placed an orange sticker on the door, court records show. The students contended that their eviction, months later, was because of the sticker and that one was suspended from playing in two college hockey games as a result.

The following April, three more students landed before URI’s disciplinary board after being charged with violating the ordinance. Two landlords also claimed they were not able to rent their houses because of the stickers. [emphasis added – EML]

The last sentence, though is really important, and is a point emphasized in the Examiner article – renters are really furious about this, and in all likelihood are the only ones who care enough about the consequences to take actual action to end this. It is not from the benevolence of legislators that we have civil liberties, but from their own retrospective self-interest.

Thus, we have students arguing things like this:

David Keach, a fellow URI student who moved into the house later that year, said he believes the sticker put the property on the police department’s radar, encouraging officers to find additional infractions. Months later, the tenants were each fined $300 after another house party, though that penalty is being appealed.

The stickers, Keach said, are to say “that these people are disturbing the peace, they’re a public nuisance.”

“But who’s to say that?” he asked. “The police? They’re the ones who decide who’s the public nuisance? Shouldn’t it be the people who live right next to them? Shouldn’t it be the people … actually affected by it?”

Nothing better than a crucible on Country Club Rd., and “community red tags” issued for laviscious behavior. Plus ca change…

Image courtesy of Flickr user Nieve44.

Misrepresenting misconduct

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 16 April 2009

Evan did a great job in a short time covering the smorgasbord of Student Services fee requests dumped on the public earlier this week. Alone in an ocean of inanity, the proposal [pdf] from the Dean of Students Office caught my eye (probably because it has pictures).

The portions of the proposal calling for awareness efforts, publicity campaigns, and a new “Safe Cats” program seem as worthless to me as they did to my colleague. But one bit of the proposal is a great idea. From the request:

On our campus the Student Code of Conduct Officers (SCCO) in the DOS often find themselves attempting to provide [guidance and support services] to numerous constituencies, while trying to conduct an impartial investigation, provide student support and preserve the rights of the accused.

The Dean of Students Office proposes the creation of a full-time professional position known as the Coordinator for Student Advocacy and Assistance (CSAA). The CSAA would have an integral role in providing help and support to individual students and communities affected by violence, loss, crime or other student emergencies. The incumbent would have an intimate working knowledge of UA policy and procedure, police procedures and community resources that would allow them to provide students in crisis with resources, support and guidance. The CSAA would also relieve the SCCO’s of the responsibility of assisting students with a process that the SCCO’s are administering — effectively separating the adjudication of the case from the student advocacy function. This allows SCCO’s to concentrate on the investigation while the CSAA works to assess student needs.


The CSAA position allows for greater continuity of care for students and eliminates student confusion that can result from seeking advocacy services from the same person adjudicating the case.

The Dean of Students disciplinary process is already stacked against students. Unlike real courts, many protections for the accused are weakened or altogether absent: there’s a lower burden of proof, no rules of evidence, and significant authority granted to the administrator conducting a conduct hearing.  Creating a student advocate position independent of the administrators who investigate and prosecute conduct cases would offer a bit more protection of student rights–especially if the position was less feel-good “support and guidance” and more actual advocacy on the behalf of students accused with Code of Conduct violations.

Indeed, this seems like a pretty critical function of any mostly secret parallel quasi-judicial system–important enough that funding it through a “services fee” rather than tuition dollars seems more than a bit backwards. Shouldn’t the Dean of Students get its cash from core and not auxiliary funding sources? I’m not happy paying for a student advocate with a fee, but the idea is a good one in principle.

Now, about those pictures. Included in the proposal is a graph showing an alarming rise in Code of Conduct cases referred to the Dean of Students Office since 2001. It’s offered in support of the assertion that the number of violations “has grown exponentially over the last eight years.” Take a look:

Code of Conduct Violations GraphI’m not sure what sort of wacky exponents they’re using, but the point is clear enough: there’s been a big increase in conduct cases, especially over the last few years.

But I’m hesitant to see this as evidence of a wave of misconduct sweeping campus, and especially not as support for an increase in the sort of violent incidents hyped by the request. Drop the 2001-2002 school year as an outlier (it would be nice to see a few more years back!) and the number of cases between 2002 and 2006 is pretty steady, fluctuating between 450 and 600 or so. The number of cases takes off in 2006-2007, and looks to be pretty stable again between 2007 and today.

What explains the sudden swing? Is it really “a corresponding rise in stalking, harassment, sexual assault, fighting and other violent crimes or violations,” as the proposal implies? Unfortunately, there’s no breakdown of cases by type, so it’s hard to know for sure. But I have another hypothesis: the Red Tag program.

The Red Tag program, which refers students who host loud parties to the Dean of Students Office–even for activity conducted in their own private homes off campus–started in the spring semester of 2007 and has been in effect since.  One good Red Tag bust can result in scads of underage drinking referrals, so it’s no wonder there’s an attendant increase in conduct cases. Moreover, it fits with UAPD’s zeal for focusing on drug and alcohol infractions.

But the worst thing is that there’s no good way to know for sure. Out in the real world, criminal activity (and in many cases the conduct violations referred to the Dean of Students office are or could be criminal, like the popular drug and alcohol diversion program) is referred to real courts, with proceedings available to the media and the public. But the Dean of Students conduct system is an entirely parallel quasi-judicial structure, and though UA is a public university, its proceedings are not public. Instead, student records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, hidden from any sort of public review or scrutiny by reporters.

To call our disciplinary structure a system of secret courts isn’t a stretch by any means. Though it’s ostensibly UA policy to refer the most serious cases to criminal courts–like last year’s dorm-room stabbing–there’s no way to know for sure what makes the cut. In theory conduct violations as severe as theft, harassment, and even sexual assault could be mediated and adjudicated within UA’s internal disciplinary system, without any of the public scrutiny that would come were they referred to real courts.

I’m seriously doubtful that this increase in conduct cases represents anything more than an increase in drug and alcohol violations as a result of the Red Tag program. In that case, drastically cutting campus crime would be as easy as simply ceasing to prosecute fake, harmless crimes like drug use and underage drinking, and focusing on real safety and conduct issues instead. But the only thing to be sure of is that the number of cases referred to a system of opaque closed-door hearings with watered down protections for the rights of the accused is on the increase. Neither case is particularly encouraging.