Arrests for marijuana possession per 1,000 people in Pullman were nearly triple those of Spokane last year.
And the arrest rate could increase this year in the college town; Pullman police have made only 10 fewer arrests than Washington’s second-largest city so far, and are on the way to making nearly 60 percent more arrests than in 2010, based on the current quarterly rate.
Three of Washington State University’s starting basketball players – Reggie Moore, Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto – have been cited for pot possession during the past three months, and in the wake of those highly publicized events, some critics say that Pullman police are targeting student athletes.
But it’s more a matter of the college town’s demographics, authorities say.
“Not as an excuse, but as an explanation, look at the makeup of Pullman,” said Pullman police Commander Chris Tennant. “The vast majority of the population is between 18 and 23, and that age group uses recreational drugs more than other populations.”
He added, “The problem is, the athletes are the ones that make the news; no one cares about the ones in marketing who get busted.”
WSU athletic director Bill Moos also doesn’t buy the theory that police are targeting WSU athletes.
“I can’t say that they are” targeting athletes, Moos said. “I know we need to do some of our own work within our department in terms of code of conduct.”
Last year, Pullman police arrested 104 people for misdemeanor marijuana possession; the city’s population is about 29,800. In Spokane, a city of 208,916 people, 221 were arrested on the same charge.
According to the 2000 census, 50 percent of Pullman’s population is 18-24 years old, while only 11 percent of Spokane’s fell into that age group, despite the presence of a handful of colleges and universities. That level of age detail isn’t yet available from the most recent census.
Tennant said police have used a “broken windows theory” in approaching enforcement for the last decade: “If you deal with the little things, you don’t have to deal with the big things. We deal with alcohol. We deal with marijuana possession. We deal with parties, noise and party trash. By doing that, we deal with fewer assaults, rape and damage to property.”
Derrick Skaug, a political science major who serves on the WSU student body association, said he’s not surprised at the number of arrests.
“In Pullman, I would say that typically the students are more of the ones who commit the crimes,” he said. “The student population tends to take more part in the nightlife.”
But Skaug does think police are focusing too much time on the wrong crime: “I think the biggest priority for the Pullman police should be preventing DUIs. That is more of a threat to public safety than MIPs (minors in possession of alcohol) or marijuana possession.”
Pullman police spend hardly any time on the WSU campus, Tennant said. But they have regular patrols on College Hill, the off-campus location of Greek row.
“We patrol that heavily. On busy weekends, we’re on foot patrol, too. By making a presence known we can prevent fights and deal with intoxication,” Tennant said. “Most of the crime in Pullman is committed on College Hill, but again, the vast majority of the population lives on College Hill.”