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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-Ed: Stop shrugging off evidence-based policies for community safety

Arming campus police officers ignores evidence that doing so will make our community less safe.

Eli McCarthy is a professor of peace studies and a member of the faculty organizers for the GW Community Safety Coalition.

GW’s leadership is continuing to move ahead with its plan to lethally arm GW Police Department officers despite robust, research-based evidence that such a policy makes a campus community considerably less safe and more at risk of trauma, hostility, harm and killing.

There has been major, persistent resistance since the Board of Trustees decided and simply announced to the GW community in April that this was the plan “to be implemented” by GW leadership. And yet, the GW leadership moves forward in spite of this. Why?

After student demonstrations in the wake of the announcement last spring, more than 500 people have signed a letter and recent petition calling for the pause and reversal of this decision, urging officials instead to follow the actual evidence of what cultivates community safety. Alumni have organized a petition to refrain from donations to GW until it stops this implementation. And more than 230 faculty members have also called for the pause and reversal of the decision to arm GWPD officers. In the midst of this, students, alumni and faculty have formed a GW Community Safety Coalition.

In a meeting with GW leadership, faculty were told the majority of comments given through the “community feedback” GWPD portal about the implementation plan were actually against arming the police. Faculty representatives met with then-University President Mark Wrighton in May. He told us that there was “no relevant data” used by the Board to make the decision to arm GWPD. We met with Chief Tate in June, and he said that he was “not aware of any relevant research data” the Board used.

If we are committed to evidence-based policies, we should be looking at data. Would we create other policies in contradiction to the evidence — or make a habit of going along with particular policies the board or an office want in spite of the evidence? Are we a research-based, truth-seeking, collaborative institution, or are we becoming something else?

University President Ellen Granberg, it is (y)our moment now. We have a chance to chart a better course and become cutting-edge leaders in evidence-based community safety.

At a minimum, it is time to pause the “implementation” until a multi-stakeholder task force, including students and faculty, investigates and can report on research and data about arming campus police in relation to community safety and alternative approaches. This report may include recommendations, and key stakeholders and the broader GW community should further discuss it.

GW’s leadership should also share the 2009 Witt Associates Report, which the Board of Trustees received and which was the rationale for their decision not to arm the campus police at that time. We seek copies of the consulting reports the current Board of Trustees used to make its decision to arm the police. Officials should share the disaggregated data from the “community feedback” portal, like the number of comments, how many remarked on the decision itself, how many for what position or suggestion, etc. And there ought to be an in-person community forum(s) to discuss the issue.

We also urge GW leadership to support and regularize de-escalation and bystander intervention training, initially for a core set of leaders and stakeholders in the GW community as a central aspect of holistic community safety. The University should support and invest in an unarmed, civilian Community Safety Unit that would be trained to respond to various types of calls often sent to the police, such as a disruption by an unhoused person, mental health situations, student conflict, etc.

Sadly, we already have examples of the impact of armed police on other college campuses. A prior op-ed has already discussed the killing of Samuel DuBose, whom a University of Cincinnati officer shot and killed in 2015. The university encountered serious liability issues, and had to pay $5 million to the family. In 2018, a Portland State University police officer shot and killed Jason Washington, a Black father of three who was trying to break up a bar fight off campus. The university also had liability issues and had to pay $1 million to Washington’s spouse.

And in 2017, campus police at the Georgia Institute of Technology killed the president of a LGBTQ+ campus group who was experiencing a mental health crisis. This is all in the context of a broader pattern of gender-based violence by campus police, which only becomes more likely with lethal power added to such policing.

We can do better. We can be and become a better community. Orienting our community safety policies around evidence is a critical step in this process of transformation.

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