Search Away, Boston College

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed:

A Massachusetts appeals court ruled Wednesday that Boston College police officers acted legally when they searched the dormitory room of two students without a warrant. The search, prompted by reports that the students had weapons in the room, found weapons — which were legal, but violated college rules — and also drugs, which led to indictments against the two students who lived in the room.

College campuses often function as a sort of pseudo municipality, with their own rules and their own punishments. A school’s punishment for marijuana or alcohol usage is often less severe than when real policemen get involvement. College punishment for something like tobacco usage is more severe.

This stems from the concept of in loco parentis, the historic responsibility of an organization that cares for children to take on some responsibilities (and attitudes) of parents. Perhaps because of this, the due process portion of campus police work is often puzzling.

In 2007 Boston College campus police searched the dorm room of two students suspected of having weapons in their room. Boston College campus rules prohibit not only real weapons but also fake or toy weapons. According to the article, campus police, looking for more weapons, eventually found:

A bag of psilocybin mushrooms, a bag of marijuana, 12 bags of a white powdery substance believed to be cocaine, and a box with individual baggies of marijuana and paper containing various names and amounts of money.

Of course, a stash like that is trouble anywhere, but on campus there’s no way you’re getting out easily. A judge found that campus police didn’t actually have the right to be in the dorm room or conduct a search but the appeals court found that since the college policy bans both weapons and pseudo-weapons, the BC police could conduct the search.

No word on what happened with the “12 bags of a white powdery substance believed to be cocaine,” arguably a far more serious problem than the plastic fake gun.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer