Student Judicial Services will refrain from using the results of breathalyzer tests in taking disciplinary action against students suspected of underage drinking. University Police will begin using breathalyzers and identification card scanners by the end of March.
Brian Hamluk, director of the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education, called the newly acquired devices an “appropriate” measure to ensure the safety of students. He said he does not foresee an increase in alcohol violations as a result of the use of breathalyzers and ID scanners.
Hamluk said other schools, such as the University of Vermont, use breathalyzers.
The breathalyzers have “nothing to do with catching or stopping people” from drinking, said UPD Chief Dolores Stafford, who added that UPD will not change its patrol procedures. The equipment will help identify students’ intoxication levels and determine whether the students need medical attention.
Stafford, a campus crime expert and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said many universities have struggled with determining whether to hospitalize intoxicated students.
“I see a lot of e-mail traffic on our professional listserv about the topic,” Stafford wrote in an e-mail last week. “There continues to be deaths on college campuses each year involving incidents of alcohol poisoning, so the topic continues to receive a great deal of attention.”
Some students said the University is overstepping its boundaries.
“I feel like it invades privacy, and students should be able to make their own decisions (about drinking),” said junior Isaiah Pickens, a candidate for Student Association president. “If something occurs to the extent that UPD must get involved, it should be evident.”
But GW law professor Mary Cheh said breathalyzers do not violate individual freedom because students have the right to refuse to take a test if asked.
“They can’t force you to do it at all,” she said. “And no consequences can come from your refusal to take a test.”
Cheh said many people don’t understand their rights and assume that they are required to take a test if stopped by police. “The whole thing has to be consensual … and it depends on the attitude police take toward the person,” said Cheh, adding that UPD should make it clear that a student has the option to decline a test because it is not illegal to walk in public while intoxicated.
Sophomore Ashley Slye, candidate for an SA Senate position, said breathalyzers violate students’ rights even though taking a test is optional.
“It would be more legitimate to give (breathalyzers) to EMeRG than to give (them) to UPD, if they are really concerned about student safety,” she said.
UPD purchased four breathalyzers through a grant provided by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Hamluk declined to give the amount of the grant but said the breathalyzers cost $490 each.
In addition, UPD spent $3,400 on two ID scanners using its own funds.
Stafford said one scanner will be given to the University Club. She could not specify other events where the scanners will be used but said UPD officers will scan IDs at GW events where alcohol is served.
Past events where alcohol has been served include Oktoberfest and registered Greek-letter parties.
Stafford said officers currently confiscate IDs that appear to be fake and that the scanners will determine whether an ID is actually fraudulent.
“In the future, we may scan an ID that we suspect to be fake before we decide whether or not to confiscate it, but that will be left to the responding officer’s discretion,” Stafford said.
SA presidential candidate Lee Roupas, a junior, said he would rather see the money spent elsewhere.
“I think the University should be channeling the funds into other areas. I don’t see this as a main concern. Why not put the money to 4-RIDE or dining services?” he said. “Channeling resources to more important areas like 4-RIDE – that provides more safety than any breathalyzer.”