D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, told GW administrators at a meeting late last month she thinks it would be a mistake to arm the University Police Department.
In an effort to keep the city abreast of University issues, including the study of whether or not UPD should be armed, administrators from the GW Office of Government, International and Community Relations organized a meeting with several D.C. City Council members.
“I just, on the face of it, don’t see the problem to which this would be the solution,” Cheh said in an interview, referring to arming UPD.
Cheh, whose ward includes the Mount Vernon Campus, called arming UPD “quite unnecessary” and cited the numerous other law enforcement agencies that are present in the city to compensate for UPD’s lack of weapons.
“It’s not as if this is some remote campus which has to provide self-defense. We are in the middle of a downtown area; we’re awash in police officers,” said Cheh, who is also a GW Law School professor. She added that she is unsure whether or not UPD officers have the “necessary experience and training to be armed.”
Administrators also met with Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, whose ward includes the Foggy Bottom campus, as well as legislative staff for Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At Large, chair of the judiciary committee.
Evans said in an interview that he did not express an opinion on the issue to GW and directed the University to seek advice from the Metropolitan Police Department instead.
“I support what MPD says,” Evans said.
He said several residents in his ward have expressed concerns on the issue, but his office has not received any e-mail or personal correspondence about it.
Mike Battle, legislative assistant to Mendelson, said he did not offer an opinion on arming UPD at the recent meeting and was in “listening mode” instead. Mendelson has not taken a position on the issue, he said.
Michael Akin, director of government and community relations, said the University values the advice and input of city officials and regularly interacts with them.
“This (meeting) was a courtesy visit to let the members and their staff know that we are about to launch a study on the issue of arming,” Akin said. “We pledged to come back to them once we have results of the study.”
Cheh recognized that her opinion may differ from others in the community, some of whom argue that UPD is among a small number of police forces of its kind that is not armed.
“They must recognize that if they were to take such a step it would be controversial,” Cheh said.
Administrators plan to hire a consultant later this week or early next week to help them assess whether to arm the campus police force, said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.
“I suppose there’s no harm in studying it,” Cheh said. “Except if that study creates a momentum for a decision to arm campus police.”
Nathan Grossman contributed to this report.