After nearly a year of review, GW has decided not to arm University Police Department officers, University President Steven Knapp announced last week.
Knapp said he made his decision two weeks ago after an exploratory study by the security consultation company James Lee Witt Associates found “no compelling justification for providing firearms to the University Police Department.” Knapp decided not to arm UPD officers based on both the recommendations from the consulting firm and his own observations, he said.
“When you are making a judgment like this you are taking all of the information into account, and you try to reserve jumping to conclusions,” Knapp said, adding that he felt the consultant firm’s recommendations were sound because they received input from, “constituents of the University, whether those were faculty, administrators, students, staff [or] neighbors.”
The University began exploring the issue of arming UPD officers last summer, soon after University Police Chief Dolores Stafford co-authored a report that suggested sworn campus police forces be armed. Knapp, however, said he began speaking with Stafford on the issue of arming UPD officers on his second day as president.
“She posed that question and asked if we would look at it and I said we would look at it,” Knapp said. “We had a lot of information to act on. I think we treated that question in a very serious way, took it seriously and looked at it, and this is where we came out.”
In addition to its conclusion regarding the arming of officers, James Lee Witt also recommended that UPD be grouped with other University security offices like risk management and emergency preparedness. Knapp said he will follow that advice, which would put those functions under a single administrator.
Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, previously oversaw UPD. Now, however, the department will report to a new associate vice president for safety and security. The administrator – who will oversee UPD, the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, and parts of the risk management office – will report to Senior Associate Vice President for Administration Ed Schonfeld. Schonfeld reports to Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz.
One of the reasons UPD was moved into a new department was to take into account the University’s operations at places like GW’s Virginia Campus, which has little to do with student affairs, Knapp said.
“We have a data center that is out on our Virginia Campus and administrative functions that don’t really have a student component or an academic component,” Knapp said.
Charlie Fisher, a vice president at James Lee Witt who worked on the report, said he also recommended that the University should develop an emergency plan that “recognizes the challenges faced by universities today.”
Fisher said it could be beneficial to have an emergency plan in place for various situations, including circumstances like the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
“There are a bunch of things that universities are challenged by today,” said Fisher. “Virginia Tech was certainly an episode, but there were a lot of other issues.”