Drug cases nearly doubled from last fall

Drug use is a problem for UW-Eau Claire students, University Police officials say, as the department continues to handle more cases this school year than last year.

Campus police dealt with 61 drug cases in the fall semester, almost twice the amount of cases – 34 – during the same period in 2000, said University Police Lt. David Sprick.

The majority of drug cases are misdemeanors, but campus police also have seen an increase in the number of felony drug offenses the past two years, said Officer Tom Roemhild.

The increasing number of drug cases also reflects the department’s effort to be more active in trying to stop the use and sales of drugs, police officials said.

“We pretty much draw the line here, because we don’t want all the baggage that comes with (drugs),” Sprick said.

University Police Chief David Backstrom said he thinks the crackdown could be the reason for the increase in drug cases handled by the department, not because of more drug users.

“I don’t believe there’s been an increase (in drug use), but our stats identify that there’s been more arrests,” Backstrom said.

According to University Police’s 2001 annual report, which compiles statistics from July 1 to June 30, police took 89 calls for drug offenses and made 40 arrests. The cases have involved marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine and ecstasy, Roemhild said.

The number of drug-related arrests dropped last year from 55 in 1998-99 and 49 in 1999-00, the report stated.

Although not included in the cases, Roemhild said the department is also aware of mushrooms and opium being present on campus.

Campus police have a “zero tolerance” attitude toward drug use on campus, Roemhild said.

Part of this reason, Sprick said, is that drug activity brings in a lot of non-student offenders and drug dealers, who can be “desperate and dangerous” individuals.

Chuck Major, university housing director, said he thinks the school doesn’t have as large of a drug problem as other area campuses.

The amount of campus drug use “comes in tides,” always increasing and decreasing, said Major, who has been housing director on campus for almost 30 years.

Although he said he has the feeling that there is more drug activity on campus this school year compared to last, Major does not think it is an overwhelming increase.

But there should be concern over even the smallest number of drug users.

“One case is too much, as far as I’m concerned,” Major said.

Freshman Jason Wiebelhaus said the amount of drug use on campus is about what he expected before he came to the school.

“It’s mostly always pot,” Wiebelhaus said, but he added that one’s perception of the level of on-campus drug use depends on the people they hang out with.

Sprick said students seem to have a misunderstanding with drugs.

They do not realize the risks they take when using drugs until they are in trouble with the police or things like financial aid or university dorm policy, he said.

Unfortunately, some of American culture views drug use as a “rite of passage,” he said.

Officers find out much about drug use on campus through students, who can talk with police under anonymity, Roemhild said.

“They’re sick of seeing this stuff dealt.”