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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Staff editorial: Students, faculty tried to stop the arming of GWPD. Now what?

The University is slowly but surely continuing to arm GW Police Department officers since former interim University President Mark Wrighton’s announcement last year. Barring a sudden change of heart by the Board of Trustees, some GWPD officers will continue to carry handguns. So, now what?

Stopping or slowing this process to address community members’ concerns is a tall order. In October, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution asking officials to publicize data and feedback about arming the department and to pause the plan in the meantime. Earlier this month, the Student Government Association began assembling a group charged with reversing trustees’ decision.

It’s difficult to say what effect, if any, faculty and student advocacy have had or will have on this process. GWPD Chief James Tate said he paused between the first and second phases of the plan’s rollout last semester, but faculty senators’ resolution “certainly wasn’t a factor.” Officials just armed an additional five officers in February, after all. But if concerned members of GW’s community can’t stop this process outright, they at least deserve to know if their voices are being heard.

Wrighton said trustees were discussing arming officers before he stepped into his position in January 2022. And per faculty senators’ resolution, then-University President Steven Knapp considered arming campus police in 2009 but decided not to after consulting an outside firm.

While this timeline isn’t exactly clear, the potential for a mass shooting or violent incident on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus was surely on trustees’ and officials’ minds last year (or however long these discussions took). But such incidents are relatively rare, and Wrighton said he couldn’t recall a single incident during his time at the University where it would be necessary for GWPD officers to use a firearm.

And yet, here we are. Students and faculty reacted to the Board’s decision with a mix of support, criticism and apathy, and those feelings don’t seem to have changed as the arming rollout continues. The trustees may not feel obliged to explain themselves, but we’d ask them — and officials — to clear the air.

Some members of the University community may never accept armed GWPD officers, an understandable position given past incidents on campus and this country’s history of police violence. But there is no harm in earnestly addressing the questions and concerns still roiling corners of the University.

GW’s trustees aren’t known for their transparency. They rarely, if ever, publicly discuss their reasoning. But the idea of arming officers was, and is, so fraught that it demands discussion. “Because I said so” rarely satisfies curious kids, and it’s not working on students and faculty. That’s why the Faculty Senate and SGA have put so much emphasis on acquiring the data that backed and followed the decision.

Whether through these representative bodies or acts of protest, there’s a clear, consistent demand for outreach and oversight — a demand that the University hasn’t met yet. Granted, officials are establishing a “Campus Safety Advisory Committee” with faculty, staff and student members. But its self-admitted “broad” view on safety does little to address the longstanding concerns of those opposed to arming GWPD officers.

For his part, Tate has said how police misconduct and disproportionate killings of Black people cause “concern, anxiety and pain.” Some students have said Tate’s leadership meetings with student organizations before the trustees’ decision improved their perception of the department. Free Chick-fil-A and “Coffee with the Chief” events can only do so much, but they’re better than no engagement at all.

Keep scrutinizing GWPD, but understand that Tate isn’t implementing a policy he created — the Board did. If you have any qualms with armed officers, direct your attention to the trustees. They made their backroom decision, and they’ve yet to respond to requests they’ve received in a meaningful, public way.

Trustees can’t ignore the issues facing GW, but ignoring the University community won’t make anyone more ready to accept their decision.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Editorials Assistant Paige Baratta based on discussions with Contributing Culture Editor Jenna Baer, Contributing Social Media Director Anaya Bhatt, Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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