GW adjusts student security presence in residence halls

Media Credit: Camille Ramasastry | Hatchet Photographer

Students enter Madison Hall without scanning their GWorld cards. There was no community service aide on duty at the time.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2015 at 9:36 a.m.

GW has adjusted shifts for its student security teams this fall to reflect the changing mix of students in residence halls.

Officials confirmed the change after they repeatedly denied there were budget cuts for campus security this fall, both to The Hatchet and to student leaders who have noticed the switch. Students said they have seen a noticeable absence of security personnel at entrances to residence halls this year and a decline in the security presence in residential buildings compared to last year.

Mitchell Hall, which houses primarily freshman this year now has 24-hour community service aides checking the GWorld cards at the entrances of the buildings, University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said. The building, which previously housed primarily sophomores in singles, now has more CSA shifts because of its younger residents, Residence Hall Association President Mike Massaroli said.

GW’s biggest freshman residence hall, Thurston Hall, also has constant CSA coverage and is the only residence hall where University Police Department officers regularly sit alongside the CSAs at the front of buildings and patrol the building.

Massaroli said he and RHA Executive Vice President Kellie French met with Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell and UPD Chief RaShall Brackney last week to discuss concerns that he and other RHA members had because they noticed some buildings had less security personnel at the entrances than at others. He said he regularly meets with security officials every other month and that the officials anticipated and addressed his concerns at the October meeting.

“In the past, a lot of the buildings had some CSA coverage,” Massaroli said. “Now it’s two extremes.”

Darnell and Brackney told him at the meeting that they made adjustments to the CSA assignments based on things like foot traffic in the buildings, crime data and the size and location of the building. For example, JBKO and Munson Hall by the Foggy Bottom Metro station have more of a security officer presence than FSK, which is located in the center of campus, he said.

“Improvements can always be made, but I trust the way that it’s being handled,” he said. “Based on the resources they have in the program now, they are allocating it in the smartest way they can.”

Darnell said in an email last month there have been no budget cuts to the CSA program this academic year, but he declined to discuss details for individual employment and the number of CSAs currently employed.

“This fall, we currently have more applications than we have [CSA] positions to fill,” Darnell said.

He said in addition to having CSAs at the doors of some buildings and having UPD officers patrol campus, the University has “extensive” video surveillance systems that allow security officials to monitor public areas of residence halls in Foggy Bottom and on the Mount Vernon Campus.

“We continue to monitor and evaluate the activity across campus and make adjustments as needed to all of our security protocols,” Darnell said.

After a string of burglaries in residence halls two years ago, officials defended their relatively light security methods compared to GW’s urban peer schools. Last year, burglaries dropped by 70 percent because the thief associated with the earlier incidents had been caught.

Massaroli, a senior who has lived in International House since he was a sophomore, said he is confident that UPD would respond “quickly and effectively” to an incident in the building even if they weren’t stationed in the residence halls. He has also noticed an increased UPD presence near the building to supplement the security in the area, he said.

“Even though I-House hasn’t really had a CSA this year, I do feel safe there,” he said.

Freshmen who live in International House this year for the first time said they have never seen a CSA in the building ‒ a shift from the security coverage they noticed when they stayed in Thurston Hall for Colonial Inauguration.

Chuck Drago, a former police chief who now advises police departments, said campus security departments should be able to shift their officers based on residence hall demographics and security needs. He said security officials at a University have to allocate their limited resources to places with the most risk.

“Typically freshmen do need more security,” Drago said. “They’re younger, newer and more easily preyed upon.”

Drago added that freshmen should be taught not to let strangers into their buildings, which is something he said could be avoided by having a person sitting at the door.

“It can’t be possible to put live bodies at every single building,” Drago said. “Any security hardware can be defeated if people don’t follow procedures.”

Kendrick Chang, Danielle Mahar, Kadir Saravanan, Marissa Kirshenbaum and Elizabeth Provencher contributed reporting.

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