At the end of finals week in May, students were celebrating at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house when there was a knock at the door. A group of police officers stood outside and asked to come in, handing out several citations to underage students inside who had been drinking alcohol illegally.
The incident is just one example of the monthly operations of the Alameda County Vice Enforcement Team — a newly formed county-wide vice team founded and coordinated by Detective Ryan Cantrell of the Hayward Police Department. Following the incident, some students have expressed concerned about police officers from outside the city of Berkeley potentially policing activities around the UC Berkeley campus.
Although the team handed out citations at the fraternity party in May, Cantrell said fraternity parties are “not something (they) are cracking down on” and they “haven’t been asked to target that specifically.” The students who were given citations will have to appear in court, possibly facing fines or community service.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi said he would caution the police not to use the team for enforcement around the campus.
“I think, in general, the team might be effective in other areas. However, I don’t know about it in the city of Berkeley,” Abbasi said. “I don’t think it is wise for people who don’t understand the student climate to be controlling our city, frankly.”
According to Cantrell, the team decided to saturate the area, as well as several other areas in the county, in the operation because the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has found a high number of people with open containers and public intoxication in the area.
“The reason for the visit to this fraternity was that the officers observed what appeared to be an intoxicated male by his speech and actions, who was on top of the roof of the fraternity and yelling,” Cantrell said in an email. “They then observed what appeared to be two minor females (under 21 years), crawl out through a window onto the roof and had beverages in their hands (red cups) to join him. Based on their actions, the officers suspected that she might be intoxicated, so they investigated for safety reasons.”
The team had contacted several other intoxicated people in the area, made several arrests and issued citations.
The squad includes several local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies and is open to all law enforcement agencies in the county. Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats said police officers throughout the state of California have powers throughout the state and can enforce laws in other jurisdictions.
“This isn’t something new this year,” Coats said. “We have participated in this type of coordination and effort with multiple agencies involved in the last few years and it’s not unusual for another agency to work part of our area and vice versa.”
The team was founded in January and began operations which focus on human trafficking, child exploitation, prostitution, alcohol, tobacco and gambling-related crimes in February.
“I can’t say that I enjoy the idea of police coming into parties to hand out citations … I would hope that the majority of (the team’s) efforts are geared towards stopping human trafficking since that would seem to me to be the most damaging,” said Interfraternity Council President David Blanchard.
Blanchard said the best course of action for fraternity members and guests on their property is to follow the law as best they can, which he believes they are already doing. He also said he believes the joint task force needs to have strict guidelines stipulating what gives them the right to enter private property and fraternities.
According to IFC External Affairs Vice President Oren Friedman, the council is pushing for more collaboration and harmony with city officials and the police. He said he hopes the formation of a Greek student-city task force can help improve relations in the future.