Recent incidents of crime on and near campus have raised questions about the communication between the University and Metropolitan police departments, but officials from both entities maintain they have a strong working relationship.
When a woman reported a forcible rape just one block from campus Oct. 6, the University received the information almost 24 hours later, after the Examiner reported the crime online. A spokeswoman for the University said then that the two police departments are in contact daily, but this was tested last week when a laptop was snatched on campus. The University failed to send a Crime Alert to the University community, saying it did not have enough of a description about the suspect to warrant an alert. But the Metropolitan Police did have additional information that was not shared with the University.
A breakdown in communication
The rape and laptop theft raised campus-wide questions about the communication between the departments.
“Unfortunately I think in [the sexual assault] case… I think it was just one of those things where we had a breakdown in communication. I consider that an anomaly,” Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said.
Second District Commander Matthew Klein – GW’s police district – said it is MPD’s policy to share information with GW and other universities.
“Anything that we think is either involving a student or will affect the student population, we immediately share with the University,” he said.
Klein said there was some sort of communication breakdown with the rape case.
“We got the information out to the community relatively quickly, but maybe it didn’t trickle down over to the University for reasons for just I don’t know right now,” he said.
Klein said in some cases “it takes a little while to figure out that this involves a student, that this involves something that somehow touches on a campus, so it’s not always clear right off the bat.”
He said any sexual offense is a very sensitive and complicated issue, as MPD must find out what happened, while at the same time respecting the privacy of the victim.
While Klein couldn’t reveal more about the investigation of the reported rape, he said it was “not a random event, that there was no danger to the community, of a woman walking down and being snatched into the alley.”
In another incident, an on-campus laptop theft in the 2100 block of G Street didn’t prompt a Crime Alert from UPD like similar laptop thefts had previously.
UPD Chief Kevin Hay said UPD’s policy on Crime Alerts requires that messages be sent out for crimes like homicide, aggravated assault, rape and most robberies.
“When it’s a purse snatch, or something like you run up and grab a phone from someone or you take a laptop from someone, that’s like a purse snatch. We don’t always do [Crime Alerts] in those cases,” he said.
Hay explained that the previous laptop theft at the Gelman Library Starbucks prompted a Crime Alert because a good description of the suspect was available and UPD “thought it would be helpful for others to help us identify that person.”
Though for the G Street laptop theft a description was included on MPD’s Second District e-mail listserv, a Crime Alert wasn’t sent.
Klein said lookouts are constantly changing in developing situations, but said in instances where both UPD and MPD respond, like in the G Street case, there is typically coordination between the two departments.
“There’s no reason why they’re not seeing each other’s reports and sharing that information,” Klein said of the two departments.
A long-standing relationship
Darnell said the communication with MPD is a mix of e-mails, telephone calls and formal and informal meetings with Klein and other MPD officials.
“We get daily information from the Metropolitan Police Department now, we have a very good relationship with Commander Matt Klein. We’re in regular contact with him, so I would say the relationship is very, very good,” Darnell said.
Hay, who began working at GW in September, said he’s “very pleased” with the UPD and MPD relationship.
“They’re very supportive, they respond in a timely manner when we ask for their assistance,” he said.
Hay said he reads a morning report from MPD, which he uses to share lookouts with UPD officers. Other reports from MPD are more specialized and deal with situational awareness. He said a recent report dealt with the dangers of Four Loko, an energy drink with 12 percent alcohol.
“I read [MPD incident reports] every day, and when I see one that’s close to campus, or has one that I think may affect either Mount Vernon or Foggy Bottom, then I share that with my commanders who push it out to roll calls. And it’s a two-way street. When we have something that’s of interest we will send that to Metropolitan Police as well,” Hay said.
Hay said he and Klein knew each other when Hay worked for Park Police prior to his job at GW, and that he has an upcoming face-to-face meeting with Klein Nov. 8 that will include other university police chiefs in the D.C. area.
“My predecessor [Dolores Stafford] met with Matt from time to time, but this is something we want to do to compare notes and work together a little bit better, so yeah, this is a little bit new but it’s not like it hasn’t happened in the past,” he said.
While Klein said information is exchanged between UPD and MPD in some form on a daily basis, when asked if officials in departments talk to each other each day, Klein said he wasn’t sure.
“We have our lieutenant who’s in charge of PSA 207, Lt. Wheeler-Moore, and she communicates with UPD and with the Foggy Bottom community regularly,” Klein said. “Like I said, I meet with Chief Hay and have met several times with vice president Darnell. Does it occur daily? Probably not.”
Klein said that several times a week Hay reaches out to him directly and informs him if he hears something or wants to know about something.
“A lot of the time the information flows the other way, we get information from GW, and Chief Hay’s good about that,” Klein said.
“I can tell you that Chief Hay and associate vice president Darnell are very enthusiastic about maintaining a good relationship with MPD and particularly the Second District,” he added.
Building up communication efforts
Darnell is looking at implementing an overall safety and security assessment of the University.
He said the assessment will begin internally but an outside firm may be contracted to look at threats, natural hazards and potential emergencies, and subsequently determine what shortfalls exist and need to be addressed.
“Now that we have the new police chief on board which sort of fills out the units that make up the Office of Safety and Security, we’ve got the full team on board,” Darnell said.
Hay said as students spend their four years in D.C., his department wants them to have a good experience, but he noted that part of students’ education should be developing a good set of street smarts.
“I think most seniors who leave George Washington would say that they’re more streetwise when they leave than when they got here. we want to help in any way we can to develop those street smarts.”