Column: UPD chief defends position, reaches out for more dialogue

Your opinion expressed April 18 (“A Call to UPD”) provides an inaccurate and incomplete view of the facts with regard to communication between the University Police Department and the staff of The Hatchet and of the status of the blue light phones on campus.

I meet with a reporter from the Hatchet on a weekly basis to discuss any reported crimes. Interestingly enough, all crimes reported to UPD are recorded in the crime log, which is usually updated each business day and is available on the UPD Web site. In addition to the conversations that occur about the crimes that have been reported, your reporter can ask any other questions that he/she feels compelled to ask about any security or safety related topic. I spend at least 30 to 60 minutes a week with reporters from The Hatchet.

I find it interesting that your staff is concerned about the status of the emergency phones on campus and your reporter did not ask me anything about that topic when I met with him this week. The good news is that the University has funded and is currently in the process of installing six new emergency telephones around campus and is moving one of the previously existing telephones due to construction (on the F Street side of the Smith Center). All six new telephones should be operational within two weeks.

You appeared to tie the emergency phone issue to the story about the two robberies that occurred over the past couple weeks. It is important to clarify that there was no reported link between a malfunctioning emergency phone and the two robberies. In fact, the second incident occurred off campus, which is outside of our police jurisdiction.

You stated that “UPD does not allow the media to contact victims of any crimes, to talk to officers who were on the scene or get updates on ongoing investigations.” We do not provide the names of victims, witnesses or subjects involved in incidents. We value the privacy of the people who report incidents, witness incidents and are alleged to be the subject or guilty party in an incident. Our top priorities when a serious incident occurs include assisting the victim, apprehending the perpetrator and providing basic facts – not a detailed account – to the GW community, so people can protect themselves from becoming the victim of a similar crime.

Our goal, barring unusual circumstances, is to post the crime alerts within 24 hours, and that goal has been met consistently over the past year. We are not keeping you from contacting victims of crimes, as is clear from many stories where some of the people who were involved in an incident are quoted. However, we have no intention of assisting you in that endeavor.

Officers are not permitted to talk to the media. Like most police departments, we have a Public Information Procedure, and at UPD the responsibility of handling media inquires is typically handled by me and my senior staff. This in not a new phenomenon and in fact is common in most police departments around the country.

You provided alleged “examples of UPD’s unwillingness to cooperate or be non-responsive.” The fact remains that I spoke to reporters from The Hatchet the day after the “ecstasy incident” occurred. I explained at that time and off the record that we were working with Metropolitan Police Department detectives to set up a sting operation for the upcoming weekend. We had information that a non-GW person involved in dealing drugs was coming to campus. The MPD sergeant at the public information office to whom the reporter spoke obviously did not know anything about the planned sting.

I was specifically asked by MPD detectives working the case to try to keep the information about the arrest that week “out of the paper” so the drug dealer would not get tipped off about the sting operation. I made a request of the editorial staff at The Hatchet to hold the story for the Monday issue, and they refused. The front-page article in the March 28 issue contributed to the detectives calling off the sting operation.
The other example citing conflicting information from UPD and eyewitnesses in the carjacking incident is just that, “conflicting information.” I provide information to The Hatchet using the official incident reports written by officers on the scene who take statements from victims, witnesses and subjects involved with the incident. It is common that several people witnessing the same incident might perceive the situation differently.

I try to refrain from responding with a letter to the editor every time there is an error in a story or an inaccurate and/or unfair judgment was rendered by a reporter. A perfect example of one of these instances involves a Feb. 7 staff editorial saying that UPD “failed to thoroughly investigate that incident.” The fact of the matter is that we spent a considerable amount of time investigating that incident, and every student involved either lied to us or withheld information.

We found out several weeks ago that at least one of the students involved withheld information because he was participating in illegal activity with the subject and he didn’t want the subject to get arrested or terminated. Your editorial staff was quick to blame UPD for “failing to investigate” the case but failed to retract or explain the additional circumstances when they came to light. Furthermore, I have provided additional information to The Hatchet regarding the music department cases that was never printed.

I guess the frustration goes both ways. We vow to continue to communicate with your staff – we will even try to improve the communication, where we can. Can you vow to print the facts, not make inaccurate assumptions or draw conclusions that are not based on the facts?
-The writer is director of UPD.
Editor’s note: The Hatchet reported April 4 that city investigators (“Ecstasy seizure nets no other”) said there were no investigations or planned investigations on GW’s campus in connection to the ecstasy bust.

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