Updated Oct. 24, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.
A local leader is demanding a city-led investigation into the GW police department, claiming the University has for years ignored his complaints about officers “abusing their power.”
More than 100 supporters have signed a petition written by Asher Corson, an alumnus and Foggy Bottom activist who is questioning D.C. police about GW’s illegal off-campus patrols that it acknowledged and backed away from last spring. The move comes after two University Police officers were suspended for acting off campus last year, prompting the department to reverse its practices.
Corson said he took his concerns to the head of the Metropolitan Police Department after University administrators failed to respond to numerous complaints about officers operating off campus.
The 2007 graduate said he still wants to know how often officers went past GW’s grounds, what actions they took and who approved the patrols. He said until officers face more scrutiny, the D.C. Council should not allow GW officers to extend their police powers off-campus, allowing them to crack down on rowdy parties in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
“Until we get answers to those very basic questions – questions that any police force would have to answer – I don’t think it makes sense to expand power to an organization who has demonstrated an inability to follow the law,” Corson said.
He addressed the petition to MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, the U.S. Attorney for the District and two D.C. Council members.
Gwendolyn Crump, a spokeswoman for MPD, said the city had already investigated allegations of misconduct by GW officers.
“The matter has been handled accordingly,” Crump said.
UPD Chief Kevin Hay has repeatedly declined to talk about off-campus policies or how officers responded to noise complaints in the past.
“I don’t want to get into it a whole lot because we are trying to move forward with legislation,” Hay said in an interview this fall. “I don’t see it as being productive at this point.”
Corson, who has served on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission for seven years, said he plans to bring a formal request to Lanier “within the next few weeks.”
He said GW and the city have not responded to his concerns in the past, causing him to take the issue straight to Lanier.
“I have reached out to her office to let them know that I was doing this, and they didn’t make any promises, but they committed to at least looking into it. I’m confident that this will be adequately investigated once we make that formal request,” Corson said.
Lanier said in a statement that MPD, which commissions UPD, has a “strong relationship with campus police departments throughout the District.”
“The public has certain expectations of skills, knowledge, transparency and accountability of police operating on public space. We need to work together to ensure that any security or law enforcement agency operating on public space is able to meet those expectations,” Lanier said.
The petition is also addressed to Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. Council.
“While I am sympathetic to the arguments raised in the petition, I do see another side. Crime knows no boundaries. The victim of a robbery is not better off because campus police could not cross the street,” Mendelson said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. Council member Tommy Wells, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, did not return requests for comment.
Corson added that he wrote the letter after his constituents told him they were confused by GW’s plans to introduce legislation, questioning why the University needed more police power to control student behavior off campus.
Jackson Carnes, a senior at GW and who is also an ANC commissioner, was one of the first to sign Corson’s petition.
“It comes down to: ‘How can we entrust a private police force to enforce our laws when they are careless about following the law themselves?’” Carnes said.