GW puts off-campus policing issue back on the agenda

Media Credit: Senior Patrick Kennedy said GW must still convince neighbors to support an off-campus policing plan. Judy Lim | Hatchet Photographer

University officials again laid out a plan for GW police to patrol beyond campus borders at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday, renewing a contentious fight that had lost steam across the city over the last year.

GW’s top legal officer and community relations liaison revealed the University’s revived effort to extend its police jurisdiction off campus at the meeting of Foggy Bottom neighbors. The community outreach is part of an effort to attract more widespread support for the proposal before it lands in a D.C. Council hearing.

Administrators struggled to find support for the plan floated last August, facing backlash from students and neighbors about a lack of transparency within the private police force. But the University’s deputy general counsel, Charles Barber, argued that the officers’ powers would simply be “to respond in real time to claims of student misconduct, typically occurring late at night and on the weekends.”

“It allows them to intercede in what we call a soft way, which is a knock on the door to try to obtain compliance with the code of conduct standards,” Barber said.

GW tried to partner with local universities to drum up support this fall, but chairman of the D.C. Council Phil Mendelson said Wednesday that the issue is “not even close” to appearing on the Council’s agenda and GW has mostly stood alone in its effort.

“I think that there is still no clear answer. GW is an unusual case compared to other universities in the area that have more set boundary lines,” Mendelson said in a phone call before the meeting.

The bill would need to be more clear about what UPD officers were allowed to do off campus, Mendelson added. Last April, officers were reprimanded for illegally operating outside their jurisdiction and frequently responding to off-campus calls.

“If it is a question of a loud party three blocks off campus and UPD going over to tell the students to shut up, that is a very different thing than UPD going to a loud party three blocks off campus and arresting everyone,” Mendelson said.

In the fall, students condemned the proposal as a way to target students affiliated with Greek chapter. It also attracted attention from national transparency-focused groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Student Press Law Center.

The University Police Department is commissioned by MPD, but keeps its records closed to the public.

Foggy Bottom Council member Jack Evans, who has represented the neighborhood for more than two decades, said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon he would need to see a final bill before deciding if he would support it.

At the neighborhood’s mayoral debate in February, Evans said he backed neighbors who were concerned about the idea of policing off campus, and said some neighbors worried about how officers would accurately identify GW students.

Senior Patrick Kennedy, the chairman of the ANC, said after the meeting the plan presented remained vague, but that neighbors may be more receptive now after GW’s expanded efforts to field community feedback, such as the online complaint form.

“The reception to outreach has changed but we still need to really see a proposal before we know if the substance has changed,” Kennedy said.

Alumnus and ANC commissioner Asher Corson, who took his concerns about expanded UPD authority to the Metropolitan Police Department in October, also said the success of the plan this time around will depend on the University’s ability to court neighbor concerns.

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