College sophomore Alizah Simon unsuspectingly encountered undercover state police officers outside the ’Sco on Friday night. For carrying a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Simon was confronted and ticketed by the two officers for underage drinking.
“I was with my friends, but I was the only one carrying beer,” Simon said. “Two big burly guys in snapback hats were standing along the ramp smoking cigarettes and said, ‘We’re state police, do you have your ID?’”
After finding that Simon was 19, the officers flashed their badges and led her up Woodland Street to an unmarked police car, where they issued a ticket and took a sample of her beer as evidence. Simon was one of three students ticketed for underage drinking.
Simon’s friends were initially confused and asked the men to prove they were officers.
“They showed us their gun and handcuffs to prove it, and it was just this long process of going over the implications of being caught underage,” Simon said.
While the punishment for underage drinking can be as severe as six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, first-time offenders are much more likely to receive community service or online classes as punishment.
The officers were from the Ohio Investigative Unit, a group of exclusively undercover state police officers managed by Agent in Charge Greg Croft. The unit’s operations are based in Cleveland and cover much of the Northeast Ohio area.
“Basically it was a random thing,” Croft said. “My guys were driving through town and noticed youthful people carrying alcohol on the sidewalks. To be honest, we didn’t know there was a bar in there. They did a walkthrough in the bar, didn’t notice any underage drinkers in the bar, but did ticket three students outside.”
While Croft and Dean of Students Eric Estes both stated that no one notified the College prior to the incident, Safety and Security Assistant Director Clif Barnes said they interacted with the state police officers “very briefly.” According to Barnes, this incident marks the first time in years that undercover police have visited Oberlin.
Since Oberlin is traditionally a laidback campus that generally doesn’t punish or investigate students for underage drinking, Simon said she was very surprised by the incident.
“It felt really arbitrary. It’s a college campus, obviously kids are going to be drinking underage,” Simon said. “If you’re state police, don’t you have something better to do? The ’Sco always felt like a safe place to be casually drinking, so I’ve been a little on edge all week.”
According to Croft, his team spends much more time investigating areas around Cleveland for illegal drug usage along with underage drinking. He said it was just coincidence they were there.
“Going to Oberlin College is not a priority for me,” Croft said. “I don’t see a crazy underage consumption issue, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be back next month. It’s all either complaint driven or, in this case, random investigation driven.”
Some students, like College senior and Student Senate Liaison Megs Bautista, said that Safety and Security should have done more to prevent the police from investigating students.
“If [the College is] looking to be proactive in student safety, they should’ve stepped up and had S&S officers intervene before the officers showed up, because now they’re wrapped up in all this legal bullshit,” Bautista said. “I find these manipulative and coercive tactics extremely unsettling and deplorable, and my heart goes out to the students affected by such an abuse of power and an abuse of the law.”
Estes noted that incidents like this rarely occur at Oberlin.
“I think the good work of the student and professional staff in the ’Sco hopefully means that any outside law enforcement presence is extremely rare because it only confirms that we are doing things the right way,” Estes said. “Shirley runs a tight ship.”