The University Police Department is establishing a team of officers to handle disturbances in Foggy Bottom in order to address residents’ complaints about student behavior.
UPD is in the process of hiring three additional officers to be part of the new team, which was formed because some neighbors said the department is doing an inadequate job patrolling the residential neighborhood. The new officers will work Thursday through Saturday evenings responding to incidents that “affect quality-of-life issues,” UPD officials said.
Students making loud noises on the streets at nights can expect to be affected by the program, said Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs.
While UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said this new team will not handle any issue occurring outside of University buildings, officials acknowledge that the team will primarily respond to noisy or disorderly students bothering those who live in close proximity to GW facilities.
A neighborhood leader labeled the UPD program a publicity stunt that has negative effects for students and fails to solve real issues.
“The problem that we have with University is that there are too many students in too small of an area,” said Ronald Cocome, president of the Foggy Bottom Association. “This is one example of the University doing one more objectionable offense as public relations campaign.”
University officials acknowledge that the program is being implemented to produce a better image in the community.
“This is an additional step of us trying to demonstrate our commitment,” Akin said. “By and large, our students are wonderful. We just thought this was the next step in us being better neighbors.”
UPD is not expanding its geographic jurisdiction and is not allowed into private property, but it encourages Foggy Bottom residents having problems with students to call into a tip line dedicated to community concerns. UPD’s current area of operations is from Pennsylvania Avenue to E Street and from 24th Street to 19th Street. UPD may not enter private property.
“The University should police its own area,” Cocome said. “Area outside should be policed by (Metropolitan Police), that’s why we pay our taxes. I don’t want to have to rely on UPD to patrol my neighborhood.”
Under the current system, all calls placed to UPD are prioritized at its dispatch center. Once the neighborhood team is in place, calls involving neighborhood issues will have manpower dedicated specifically to them.
For example, if residents complain of noise in front of Thurston Hall, there are specific officers who would respond to the situation, as opposed to the current system in which the call would be prioritized among all other calls.
With the additional help, UPD will now be able to respond faster to what used to be low-priority calls. UPD is not getting any more vehicles at this time, Stafford said.
“We are not doing anything differently now what we view to be quality-of-life issues that we get constant complaints about,” Stafford said. “We do not have the manpower to do what we are being asked to do.”
Several years ago the University began a campaign to improve relations with Foggy Bottom residents. A phone line was established to receive complaints that involve students.
“What we were finding was we were dealing with student noise during the peak nights of Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights these were the peak time for student conduct,” Akin said. “Given that we saw these hot spots evolving it made sense to put additional officers on that time.”
Residents living near GW complained to University officials that UPD was doing a poor job keeping students behaved in the streets.
“What we heard also from the community is that they didn’t like the officer out driving with their windows up; they wanted these officers on foot and on bike listening,” Akin said. “They wanted people out and about the hear and witness what was going on.”
Cocome said students have the right to go out at night and come back at late hours, but local residents should be able to go to bed when they want to as well.
“The students are made to feel uncomfortable and having to have University Police constantly bother them isn’t a solution, and it hasn’t worked anywhere else,” Cocome said.