Community leaders delay discussions on giving special officers off-campus powers

Eve Zhurbinskiy, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said she had some concerns with expanding the jurisdiction for officers in the University Police Department to off-campus properties.  Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer
Eve Zhurbinskiy, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said she had some concerns with expanding the jurisdiction for officers in the University Police Department to off-campus properties. Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Chelsea Bendelow.

Community members are holding off on formal discussions of a new D.C. Council bill that would allow officers in the University Police Department to patrol off campus.

Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie introduced a bill that would require special police officers in D.C., including UPD officers, to undergo additional training last week. The bill would also give the officers additional jurisdiction for UPD to patrol off-campus properties, a provision that has proved to be contentious in the past.

McDuffie proposed the legislation after D.C. resident Alonzo Smith died last month after being found unconscious and in the custody of special police.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the Consortium of Universities in the Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes GW and is chaired by University President Steven Knapp, “approached” McDuffie about campus policing for D.C. universities in the organization. She said the University saw a copy of the bill after McDuffie introduced the bill last week.

Csellar declined to say if the University has any plans to discuss the benefits or disadvantages that the bill could pose with the community in the coming weeks before the D.C. Council holds a hearing to discuss the bill.

“We look forward to following the bill as it proceeds through the legislative process, which is open to the public, but are not going to comment on the specific legislation at this time,” she said.

GW’s proposal to give UPD officers the power to patrol off campus two years ago had mixed responses among community members. Some welcomed the additional security for students and other people living off campus, but others thought the increased patrols invaded on the rights of young residents and alumni living near campus who could be mistaken for students.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who represents Foggy Bottom, declined to comment on the bill, saying he hadn’t heard any input from members of the community.

Eve Zhurbinsky, a commissioner for the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission and a sophomore at GW, said because the D.C. Council is in winter recess and many GW students are home for winter break, there have not yet been any formal discussions on the bill.

Zhurbinsky said she is concerned that students who live off campus might be given a drug violation for marijuana with GW because UPD officers would be patrolling areas that Metropolitan Police Department officers might not have monitored as strictly.

“They wouldn’t have gotten in trouble if UPD hadn’t patrolled off campus,” she said.

Zhurbinskiy said while UPD does have a system in place to file complaints against officers, it’s not as effective as the one within MPD and said she thought it could lead to issues if non-students wanted to report against UPD officers.

“If we give them extra jurisdiction, that might lead to more complaints,” she said. “There needs to be some sort of accountability process.”

Robin Eberhardt contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.