Dolores Stafford: UPD is committed to professionalism

As I read the editorial in The Hatchet Nov. 17 regarding the public hearing for reaccreditation process, I was pleased that the editors encouraged people to come out and “have their voices heard” about the performance of the University Police Department (“Concerns about UPD? Be involved in the process,” p. 4).

While the reaccreditation process is not related to the study the University will soon conduct on aspects of safety and security at the University and whether to arm the police force, the editorial addressed the criticism of a couple of our “prominent community members accusing officers of being too ‘unprofessional’ to carry guns.” As GW and Foggy Bottom community members reflect on this issue, I want to share some important facts about UPD, its employees and what we do for this campus.

UPD conducts a citizen survey every three years to gather feedback. The most recent survey was conducted in the spring of 2008 and realized a 33 percent response rate. Ninety-two percent of the respondents rated the overall performance of the department as “excellent” or “good,” and 81 percent rated the officers professionalism as “excellent” or “good.”

Throughout the year, we randomly send service feedback forms to members of the GW community who have come in contact with our officers when responding to a crime or other incident on campus. Seventy-five percent of these individuals have rated the officers as “excellent,” and a total of 20 percent rated them as “good” when asked directly about their professionalism.

We spend a significant amount of effort gathering feedback through various sources, and the results are overwhelmingly positive when it comes to people rating their experiences with the department and the professionalism of our officers.

I have visited many universities in the 22 years I’ve been involved with campus law enforcement. I have seen other departments, their personnel and how they operate. I have nothing but pride when it comes to leading the GW Police Department. Our officers are some of the most talented, well-educated, highly trained and thoughtful officers I’ve seen on college campuses across the country. We have continued to enhance our hiring practices over the years, and today 60 percent of UPD police officers have advanced degrees, many with master’s degrees – a significant number of whom received their education right here at GW.

One of the main focuses of our department during my tenure has been training, and there aren’t many private colleges that provide the amount or quality of training that we provide for our officers.

UPD officers receive at least 700 hours of training during their first year of employment, including attendance at a campus police academy, 200 hours of classroom training in a number of law enforcement topics and techniques above and beyond the academy curriculum and a thorough field training program consisting of a minimum of 240 hours. In addition, all officers receive a significant amount of recertification and refresher training each year to enhance their skills.

There is no doubt in my mind about their ability to respond swiftly and professionally to any incident they are equipped to handle, based on their education, experience and law enforcement training. If the UPD officers were to be armed – which has not yet been decided and is under thorough review – we would provide nothing less than the most rigorous training program available, and we would come into compliance with all applicable national standards.

GW’s police force is one of less than 1 percent of the college campuses across the country that has voluntarily entered the law enforcement accreditation process. This means we open ourselves up to external scrutiny every three years by allowing other top law enforcement professionals to come into the department to judge our policies, procedures and practices. We are on the cutting edge, and we are proud that we meet all the national standards in law enforcement. If we were to become armed, they would judge us on everything that goes along with that responsibility.

We recognize that we are in an unenviable role at GW, as we are charged with enforcing the law and GW policies, and we must do that with tact and diplomacy every day. UPD officers respond to over 100,000 calls for service each year, and regardless of whether those calls are about crime, safety concerns or for people who simply need help with solving a problem, our officers provide guidance, assistance and comfort, when necessary.

When everyone else is fleeing from dangerous situations, we run toward the danger. Thank goodness our campus is generally safe and that situations where an officer is asked to put his or her safety on the line don’t happen every day. However, serious incidents do occur, and I have no doubt that my officers have and will continue to respond and protect the community they were hired to serve.

I know the commitment that UPD employees have to our mission at GW. I know what their capabilities are, and I see their professionalism displayed on a daily basis, from the minor service calls to the serious incidents that they respond to. I am proud of the work we do and the manner in which we do it.

Rest assured that regardless of the final decisions made as a result of the arming study, we will continue to strive to be one of the best campus police departments in the country. We take our jobs as police officers at GW seriously, and we prepare for the worst at the same time that we hope for the best every day for our community.

The writer is the chief of the University Police Department.

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