The University has made the decision to function without the position of University Police Department chief, and the change in leadership structure highlights growing concerns within the department.
In an administrative shake-up announced this month, the department will restructure top leadership instead of appointing a new chief. Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security, will also take on the position of superintendent of police, overseeing most of the chief’s duties.
The elimination of the title comes after the previous two chiefs ended their tenures in controversy. About three months ago, former UPD Chief RaShall Brackney and Assistant Chief Michael Glaubach suddenly resigned without reason. Before that, former UPD Chief Kevin Hay left the department after multiple former officers sued for discrimination and accused UPD of creating a hostile work environment in November 2014.
When reasons go unsaid, it leaves the community to wonder what is happening within the department.
The new changes come with little explanation. The University must be transparent about this administrative change, explaining why Brackney and Glaubach suddenly resigned this year and elaborating on why Darnell was chosen for this leadership position instead of filling the chief spot. The open communication should continue with students, too. Officials also announced they would start a student advisory board to weigh in on security policies and procedures that impact students. In order for this change to be positive, the student advisory board should be comprised of a variety of students who can provide timely and useful feedback to improve the department’s relationship with the community on campus.
The reorganization that UPD is going through is largely unprecedented. Ten out of our 12 peer institutions, including Georgetown University and the University of Pittsburgh, have police chiefs in their chain of command. Because the move is unusual and directly affects day-to-day safety on campus, students and staff deserve to know why this shift occurred. The community also should be informed as to why Brackney and Glaubach resigned without positions to move on to or announcing future plans. When reasons go unsaid, it leaves the community to wonder what is happening within the department.
Brackney, who came to GW in the fall of 2015, was set to revitalize and fix prominent issues, like a hostile work environment and reports of discrimination within the department. She came into the job with 30 years of experience and as a veteran of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Brackney has made improvements, like promoting officers within the department and encouraging development. But with her sudden absence, it is unclear if those specific priorities will be maintained. Leaving goals unfinished creates instability in an already fragile department.
Although this change wasn’t expected, there are both positive and negative aspects to the shift. The department also created four assistant chief positions to improve oversight and be more focused on certain responsibilities, which could potentially create a more productive department. Each high-ranking officer will now report to Darnell, and the four assistant chiefs will lead administration, operations, physical security and technology management, and investigation and threat assessment. With an assistant chief at each of these posts, accountability has the potential to improve.
But overall, it is difficult for students to understand whether the change in the UPD administration’s organization is a good or bad system. Students can’t make an informed judgement from the lack of information the University has released. University President Thomas LeBlanc must be open about the changes that the department has gone through, especially considering his goal to lead “a cultural change in how officials make decisions.” That mindset is especially critical in the department, which is most vital to student safety.
Aside from transparency about the reorganization, the community deserves to know why Darnell is the best fit for superintendent of police. Although Darnell is a former Air Force sergeant and has a background in security planning with the Department of Justice and the White House, he does not have the background of a police officer. While his long experience in the military develops strong leadership skills, not having the same background as his officers could cause issues within the department, especially if his subordinates don’t feel like they come from the same background. It may be difficult for him to improve the department if his relationship with his staff becomes strained.
Students can’t make an informed judgement from the lack of information the University has released.
With this new shift of organization in the police department, a new wave of transparency must start to foster a connection between students and UPD. This can be accomplished through the founding of a student advisory board to give students a voice in UPD decisions. Although this board was proposed in 2016, it has yet to be created. Darnell must establish this group of students by the end of this semester. This advisory board, which was originally proposed by the Student Association, should be made up of students who have had experiences – both good and bad – with officers and the department itself. The University has said that housing affinities will be included in the board, which is important because some have had issues of officers entering rooms without cause. The advisory board can voice complaints directly to officers, including topics like EMeRG policy reforms and a push for police body cameras.
It is not clear how the reorganization of the UPD office will affect students, staff and the community as a whole. But if GW commits to more student involvement and the possibility for more accountability in the department from the University and UPD, structural change can start this relationship with the community on a good foot.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.