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Relations with P-Safe

Public Safety performs a vital role on Princeton’s campus. Its efforts to keep us safe and of sound mind allow us to take full advantage of the academic and social possibilities afforded us. Essentially, we are on the same team. Students and Public Safety officials ought to be on the same page — the general welfare and comfort of the Princeton community is everyone’s objective. Unfortunately, this ethos has not been created and Public Safety’s mode of operation has sometimes turned hostile and even adversarial. According to the director of Public Safety: “Our efforts to maintain a safe and secure environment rely on our ability to develop collaborative relationships with the many communities that make up the University.” It is supposed to be about relationships and working together to better Princeton. I have heard from various friends around campus that this is not an accurate characterization of the relationship between the student body and the authority trying to keep them safe. So, I did some digging and have conducted interviews with students who have recently interacted with Public Safety. Please note that all the following testimonies were given by current Princeton students on condition of anonymity.

I asked a friend about her recent contact with a Public Safety official. This interaction had to do with a first offense. “The situation I was in involved being on a roof, and then the officer seemed to infer without evidence that we were smoking marijuana.” There was no marijuana on the scene; the transgression and accusation were unrelated entirely. My friend went on to say, “The officer said that he would ‘help us’ if we gave him information that he wanted — information that was not directly related to our incident but would have gotten others in trouble.” The Public Safety officials were probing for information about a third, unknowing party by applying misplaced and misguided pressure. Public Safety transformed sneaking out onto a roof into a witch hunt for a narcotics distributor.


When the officer failed to extract the sought-after information, the tactics took a turn for the dirty. “In my individual meeting with the officer, he told me that he had found marijuana in my friend’s room, which I later learned was a lie. When I later read the P-Safe report (which the officer had written himself), it said that he had not found any marijuana ... I continued to deny that I was smoking marijuana, but he kept trying to coerce me into a confession by trying to catch me off guard in the conversation ... ” The officer turned to false allegations of another student, psychological intimidation and aggressive interrogation techniques. This is generally bad police work and entirely inappropriate in a university setting. The power distribution between the two parties made the officer a domineering bully, who was interrogating an innocent for unrelated crimes. It is difficult to expect cooperation on the side of the students, if there is no attempt at a professional, collegial relationship on behalf of the powerful party.

In all fairness some have had good, productive interactions with Public Safety. I spoke to another friend of mine who is involved with fraternity life on campus. According to this fraternity member who has had ample interactions with Public Safety over an incident that occurred last year: “[The Public Safety officer] told the truth in his witness report, he told it fact by fact, without interjecting opinions. Among all the other witnesses used in my trial — who sprinkled their testimony with personal opinion, secondhand accounts, unfair judgments and inappropriate emotion — I saw the P-Safe officer as my saving grace frankly ... he told the truth. I think the Disciplinary Council’s use of witnesses leaves something to be desired, but they did not go wrong in using this officer.” This run-in with Public Safety was of a grander, more public nature and in that sense was under the scrutiny of many eyes. The fraternity member continued: “And to be honest, I have infinitely more ill-feeling toward the Disciplinary Council than I do P-Safe. They made me feel uncomfortable, they used dirty tactics and did very little to help students through an extremely arduous process. I was happy P-Safe arrived on the scene, rather than other students or faculty, because they did a stand-up job.” This is the model for an ideal interaction: a relationship based on truth and a vision toward a better Princeton environment. The Public Safety officials reported honestly and in the interest of justice. This left a good taste in the mouth of the fraternity brother and encouraged cooperation in the future.

There needs to be a uniform standard throughout the entire Public Safety team. There is no reason that different students should experience different levels of professionalism on different days. Overall, having an active Public Safety department is a very good thing. Ultimately, it is most important that Public Safety practice just tactics and aim to work productively with students to make the campus a safer place.

Aaron Applbaum is a sophomore from Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at