During the past few weeks, changes have been made in the implementation of safety policies. Student property such as bags as well as student rooms have been searched by the members of Public Safety under suspicion of possessing banned items.
According to Dean of Students Kyle Farley, carrying opaque plastic bags, especially on the weekend, is now considered “probable cause” for search.
“It’s the obligation of Public Safety to reduce high-risk behavior … when students come on campus and it’s late on a Thursday or late on a Friday, carrying the [opaque] bags … that is, I guess, if you use the language of the U.S., probable cause. So they have a right to say what’s in the bag? And the only thing in that bag for Public Safety has been [items banned in residence halls],” said Farley.
Farley added that the searching of opaque bags seems to be a new measure taken by Public Safety this semester: “I don’t think that Public Safety routinely checked the opaque plastic bags [last year] … that is a new step with Public Safety to reduce high-risk behavior.”
In addition, according to Farley, Public Safety now regularly visits Spinneys and other stores that sell products considered contraband for students on campus.
The searches are not a result of policy changes but rather a result of changes in policy implementation. According to Farley, there have been no changes in the explicit policy language regarding suspicious behavior. In the welcome email that he sent out to all members of the Class of 2020, 2019 and 2018 on Sept. 7, he provided a link to campus policies. Nevertheless, it is unclear if only opaque plastic bags are being searched.
Students have reported cases in which other bags and boxes have been searched. Diego Arias, Class of 2020, had his laptop bag searched as he entered the A6B Residential College. Reema Kaiali, Class of 2020, had a similar experience in the same building.
“I walked in and was halfway up the stairs and the security guard asked me to come back down and if she could go through my bag,” wrote Kaiali to The Gazelle. She was carrying a tote bag with laptop and two textbooks.
“[The security guard] said they were checking bags that seemed heavy now because people were bringing in too [many banned substances] into the building,” Kaiali added.
James Pearce, Class of 2020, was carrying a box with speakers from the Center of Academic Technology into A6B and was asked by a member of Public Safety if they could check the contents of the box.
“I walked in and [the security guard] said, sir, can I look in your bag? … Then I placed it on the counter,” said Yohana Mpuya, Class of 2018. Mpuya was carrying a brown paper bag from the Convenience Store with soda cans into A6B.
Students have also expressed concern over Public Safety’s use of CCTV footage to monitor student behavior in multiple tips to members of The Gazelle.
“Public Safety uses a variety of means to investigate incidents, including CCTV,” wrote Michael Scollan, Senior Director of Public Safety and Emergency Operations Planning, in an email to The Gazelle.
According to Farley, if a student refuses to be searched, then the security guard on call in the building may use CCTV cameras to determine the student’s destination before calling another member of Public Safety to apprise them of the situation.
There remains some ambiguity regarding which office, Residential Education or Public Safety, has the responsibility and authority to search student rooms and property. According to Farley, Public Safety and Residential Education are in conversation at the moment to decide who is best suited to and most effective in addressing high-risk behavior.
“If Public Safety [has] information that a violation of University expectations has occurred, Public Safety will coordinate with Residential Education and others as appropriate to address the incident,” said Scollan without further specification on the division of work.
According to Farley, there are 2400 cameras around campus, but only three officers monitor their footage campus-wide. In addition, there are approximately 60 cameras in each residential building, which are monitored by the Public Safety member at the front desk of that building.
While Public Safety does use CCTV footage and card reader data to investigate policy violations, there usually must be enough suspicion of high-risk behavior to warrant the use of these measures.
“In general, cameras are used after an incident to try and find out what happened during the incident,” said Farley.
Yara El Wazir, Class of 2018 and a Residential Assistant, clarified RA protocols regarding the searching of student rooms. RAs must ask for permission before entering student dorms.
“However, if the RA is concerned that someone is in danger, or someone might need professional medical help, and he or she is refused entry, said RA can call his or her [Residential College Director] on call, or public safety, who will handle the matter themselves,” added El Wazir.
Reached for comment, Audrey Kajumbula, Director of Res Ed wrote, “Residential Education has not made any policy changes. Residential Education works with other departments including the Dean of Student Office and Public Safety and will support their initiatives to make our community safe.”
Correction: Sept. 25, 2017
A previous version of this article stated that, “policies do not specifically mention students’ rights to privacy regarding their private property nor do they grant members of Public Safety or Residential Education the authority to search student property”. As per the 2017-2018 New York University Global Housing License, NYUAD reserves the right to search student residences without their direct approval in a variety of instances.
This article was written by Jakob Plaschke and Paula Estrada of The Gazelle. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Anastasiia Zubareva