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Administrators, Students, Concerned About Police on Campus

Before this year, most Grinnellians hadn’t heard of the Mid Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force (MINE), a federally funded, multi-county operation. From September to May, the task force arrested 13 Grinnell students for marijuana related offenses.

“Some of [the increase] has to do with the individuals that were initially busted by the police department and just the overall interaction with the drug task force and Grinnell College,” said David Menninga, a Grinnell Police Department investigator who joined MINE last August. “We really just act on information that we gather…information from sources that have purchased from the campus.”

Task Force personnel alarmed students with their new practice of entering dorms without a Campus Safety and Security escort. Administrators at the College met with Interim Police Chief Theresa Petersen last month to express their concerns about police entering dorms without Campus Security present.

“[The College has] been working under the philosophy and the understanding that anytime Police are in the residence halls, they are going to have an escort of Campus Safety and Security. That’s who our students know,” Dean of Students Travis Greene said. “There have been one or two instances that I’m aware of where that hasn’t been the case. My understanding is that it’s been undercover drug narcotics agents who, because they didn’t want to interfere with a lead, didn’t let us know until after the fact.”

According to Greene, the College has made no effort to increase police presence on campus. In April, administrators attempted to stop MINE from coming onto campus without the administration’s knowledge.

“[Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty], [Director of Security Stephen Briscoe] met with [Interim Police Chief Theresa Petersen] to express our concerns and our hope to be able to collaborate so that at a minimum we would know that they are even coming onto the campus,” Greene said.

They could not reach an agreement because MINE did not want to risk compromising its investigations.

“That’s just the nature of a drug task force,” Briscoe said.

One of these incidents involved task force members searching a student’s room after following the student in the dorm hallway, looking through the open door and seeing a bong, according to the student, who requested anonymity for legal reasons. The student finds the role security played troubling.

“[During the search] the security guard came in and he’s like, ‘Oh we heard there was a situation down here but it looks like you have it under control and I don’t want to be in your way so I’ll just get out of here.’ Probably wasn’t in my room for more than 30 seconds,” the student said. “And I was like, you’re supposed to be here to watch out for me. You’re not on their side. You’re Campus Security. You know, where’s my [RLC]?”

After completing a search of the room and finding both paraphernalia and marijuana, the officers asked for its source.

“They were like, ‘Where’d you get the weed?’” the student said. “But I wasn’t going to go down that road.”

Menninga, of MINE, uses two main methods for accessing dorms without a warrant or notifying Campus Security.

“I’ve entered dorms by student and by doors being propped open or unlocked. I haven’t obviously broken into a dorm,” Menninga said.

While students may find Menninga’s presence invasive, it is entirely legal as long as he enters by the one of the aforementioned mechanisms because dorm halls qualify as “common areas,” which according to consist of “the areas not owned by an individual owner of the condominium or cooperative residence, but shared by all owners, either by percentage interest or owned by the management organization.”

“A warrantless entry [to a common area] is valid when based upon the consent of a third party whom the police, at the time of the entry, reasonably believe to possess common authority over the premises,” ruled the US Supreme Court in Illinois v. Rodriguez (1990).  A student opening the door to the dorm fits this description.

MINE’s exercise of its legal muscle has changed the attitude on campus concerning marijuana.

“Everybody is so paranoid right now.  Everybody’s just so worried about their futures,” said the investigated student. “Everybody is just so anxious.”

Rumors about who the informants are have begun circulating.

“[People say] I think this person is [an informant], that can ruin someone’s social life at school,” the student said.

The law of common area entrance allows students some protective agency.

“It’s [students’] responsibility to make sure they don’t prop doors or they don’t let people into the Residence Halls who clearly don’t belong,” Greene said.

Dougharty remains optimistic about the future of the College’s relationship with Grinnell Police Department, especially because of the attitude of Dennis Reilly, who will take over full-time as Grinnell Chief of Police in June.

“Our sense was, and Steve [Briscoe] spent time with him during the interview process as did [incoming VPSA Sivan Philo ’13] that he is very, very interested in continuing a collaborative relationship with the college and a cooperative one,” Dougharty said.

Ultimately, for Dougharty, it comes down to one simple rule.

“Don’t let anybody in you don’t know,” he said.

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  • R

    Robert MeyerMay 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

    As of January 1, 2011, possession of one ounce (28.5 gms) or less of marijuana is an infraction, punishable by a maximum $100 fine (plus fees) with no criminal record under Ca Health & Safety Code 11357b.

    Time for Iowa to think about following California’s (and Colorado’s ) lead.

  • C

    Concerned ParentMay 12, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Well at least someone is taking responsibility for student welfare–goodness knows the Office of Student Affairs isn’t; self government on major health issues is just an excuse for the administration to put their heads in the sand. Greene and Stern need to spend less time covering the college’s backside and do a more focused and thoughtful job attending to individual student welfare. Yes, “in loco parentis” is a thing of the past but the as many educators and health professionals have indicated to some of us parents Grinnell in not a healthy place for young adults in transition” between high school and the future.

  • C

    Clay Parks - class of '84May 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Ossifer Dave Menniga: Do you ask students to open a dorm door for you after identifying yourself as a police officer? Or do you hang out and wait for a student to enter and grab the door before it shuts? And no, it is not obvious you haven’t broken in. You most likely had lock pick training as part of your federal training. I wasn’t aware that an unlocked door to a home, such as a house or dorm, meant anyone, whether it’s a warrantless police officer or burglar, can enter the residence, but that seems to be the case with MINE. How many women have been raped, how many houses burglarized, how many citizens or businesses been robbed, just how many crimes have been committed that could have been prevented by using the time and resources wasted by Officer Menninga and his cohorts for serious crime prevention and apprehension?
    And students: do your parents know their tax dollars are used to harass and disrupt your education? Why can’t students yell “COP” when one of these law heros enter a dorm? And why doesn’t the S&B print their pictures to help students learn who is a student and who isn’t? And you are welcome to print my name as far as anonymity goes.
    Are there any alumni with law degrees willing to enter the fray and file an injunction or suit against MINE for what appear to be their blatant disregard for the law?
    This is no longer just a marijuana issue, but is on the way to being a Bill of Rights issue in regards to Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

  • G

    Get RealMay 7, 2012 at 9:05 am

    To Mr. Mason’s point…I concur. My point, poorly worded perhaps, was that the GC students need to pull their heads out of the clouds and remember two things: 1) until the law changes, you can’t be stupid. 2) student affairs is simply incompetent – they make you feel like the have your back and they want to support/nurture until you’re on the ropes, then you’re on your own.

    To the students: don’t be naive and exercise a little common sense on your own behalf, because the administration never has and probably never will.

  • A

    AlumnusMay 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    This story gets more disturbing the more I hear about it. MINE is a federally-funded inter-agency task force, apparently administered out of the Urbandale P.D. I don’t envy the Grinnell administration. There are probably several politically-motivated students actively working with MINE who see themselves as some kind of heroes in the culture wars, where Iowa seems to be on the front-line. If the Grinnell administration decides to make a stand, it will blow up into at least a big local story and reinforce the perception of the college as a bastion of the hated liberal elitists. Add in the fact that marijuana use was always on something of a don’t ask don’t tell basis, and the college is in a lose-lose position. Don’t forget that federal agents (and U.S. Attorneys) are this very moment in the process of seizing buildings (tens of millions of dollars worth) from landlords who have leased to (legal by state law) medical-marijuana businesses in other states. Similar seizure arguments could be used against the college should they look the other way on marijuana dealing, even small-time dealing. Admittedly a bit far-fetched, but by no means unthinkable. I would advise current students and faculty at Grinnell to keep the doors to your rooms/offices/homes locked at all times, and to treat anyone you meet as a potential informant who would like nothing more than to ruin your life. That’s no way to live of course, but may be necessary until the storm clears. Anyone in the Grinnell community who currently uses marijuana should probably stop, at least for now. Marijuana should of course be legal, but for a variety of historical and cultural reasons it isn’t. And the days of distinguishing between hard drugs and soft drugs are apparently over. If you’re really concerned then ending the federal prohibition is the only way forward here. Unless you think society is going to magically become less polarized and more tolerant.

  • P

    Pete MasonMay 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    re a previous comment, which in part read “Maybe the one simple rule is: ‘follow the law.'”

    Can I paraphrase that as “You shouldn’t mind living in a police state if you aren’t doing anything wrong!!”

    ‘Cause that’s always the refrain when we have are asked to endure more and more rules, more and more police presence, and more and more surveillance: you shouldn’t mind being constantly watched if you are not doing anything wrong!

    — Pete

  • A

    AndrewMay 4, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Hahahaha, some people at Grinnell are TOO FUNNY. I am of the position that all drugs should be decriminalized, if only for moral reasons. However, since drugs are currently ILLEGAL, you’re going to have to take reasonable precautions. Too many people at this school take self-gov to mean entitlement to protection from the law. How ’bout you lock the door and not open it until you look through the keyhole to see who it is? If Grinnell is like most schools, it has a “must be present” clause, meaning that a student has to be present when searched. If you can’t do that, get a lockbox. Police CANNOT open a lockbox without a warrant.

    This also speaks to the political ignorance of a lot of Grinnell students. Too many people at Grinnell treat Obama like some infallible demigod. While I like Obama, I strongly detest the fact that he completely reversed his position on medical marijuana. I’m not a fan of “Well, if you don’t like the laws, just write your congressman!” philosophy, but I am a fan of peaceful protest and sharp questioning during Presidential debates. I highly doubt any Grinnellian will have the moral fortitude (or knowledge) to question Obama’s stance on this.

  • R

    Real TalkMay 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm


    “There have been one or two instances that I’m aware of where that hasn’t been the case. My understanding is that it’s been undercover drug narcotics agents who, because they didn’t want to interfere with a lead, didn’t let us know until after the fact.” –Dean of Students Travis Greene

    SERIOUSLY, Greene, you don’t know? This is your job. This is what your position, not someone else’s position exists for. You and Dougharty are letting down the student body. Know about whats happening. Have all the information. Be able to talk about these situations with some insight and hard facts. “One or two” sounds like any other student gossiping. Get you shit together student affairs. At the end of the day smoking dope has consequences and I’m confident students know that, but the administration leaves a lot to be desired in it’s handling of all of this.

  • G

    Get RealMay 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Wait… Maybe the one simple rule is: “follow the law”. One more example of the la-la bubble of Grinnell and the poor skills of Dougharty.