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Breaking Down Roanoke’s Drug Arrests


Photo Courtesy of Spotsylvania Sheriff

Article Written by David Hall

By the numbers, Roanoke College’s number of drug arrests in recent years are high even when compared to schools of similar size and much larger. We’ll be exploring this issue in depth, but here’s an introduction.

How much higher? Let’s take a look.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education as reported by the college, 27, 37, and 17 drug arrests were made in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. However, without comparison, these numbers are meaningless. So let’s make some comparisons.

In those same years, schools of similar size in the state of Virginia had far fewer arrests. For example, Washington and Lee University in Lexington has 2,224 enrolled to Roanoke’s 2,050.  According to the same statistics in the same years, (2012, 2013, 2014), Washington and Lee had 0, 0, and 1 drug arrest respectively.

Lynchburg College, also of a similar size with 2,736 enrolled is more on pace with Roanoke with 12, 14, and 20 arrests, but for at least two of those year’s numbers fall well below Roanoke. Let’s go bigger.

Virginia Tech in those same years (that’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 if you’ve forgotten) had 51, 59 and 48 drug arrests. Those numbers are considerably higher than Roanoke’s however, remember that Tech’s population dwarfs Roanoke’s with 31, 224 enrolled.

So why are Roanoke’s numbers so high?  Thomas Rambo, director of campus safety at the college, said multiple facets contribute to those numbers, including differences in procedure between institutions and municipalities as well as more abstract things like campus culture.

Firstly, Roanoke College Campus Safety is what is referred to as special conservators of the peace. This means essentially that rather than acting as an independent police force, they act with permission from the local circuit court, in this case, Salem. This allows campus safety officers some authority regarding making arrests and carrying a weapon while still ultimately operating under the greater Salem umbrella.

Why does this matter? According to Rambo, this gives the college’s officers less discretion when deciding what do with found substance, marijuana, for example. The decision then lies with Salem whether or not to press charges, and according to Rambo, they most often do. This discretion varies from department to department, municipality to municipality. Departments in other towns therefore, might be too busy with other more serious crimes to spend their resources busting college kids with pot.

However, this isn’t the only facet of the issue. According to Rambo, his reports show that 85 percent of these incidents are the result of student complaints, not from officers coming across students with drugs by chance. This could mean greater implications about general campus culture.

It is worth noting that these numbers are on the decline and that there is a two-year lag for the statistics; we don’t yet have the numbers from 2015 and 2016. Regardless, The Brackety-Ack will continue to explore both the procedural implications adding to these numbers as well the effect of campus culture.