The University joined the majority of its peer schools by establishing a student board for its police department earlier this month.
Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security, said the department launched the Student Advisory Board to improve the relationship between the student body and campus safety leadership. The board consists of 14 undergraduate and graduate students who will “drive the conversation” and set the agenda for monthly meetings with members of the GW Police Department, and both the offices of victims services and enrollment and the student experience.
“This advisory board will provide students the opportunity to identify campus safety concerns and provide feedback to leadership for their resolution,” Darnell said in an email.
Members of the Student Association proposed a GWPD student advisory board in 2016 to relay student concerns and suggestions to the department. Officials first announced the formation of the board in April during an overhaul of GWPD’s leadership structure and accepted applications between Aug. 22 and Sept. 14.
“We were so impressed by the variety of students who were interested in the positions,” Darnell said.
The University is reviewing the students’ schedules to determine a date for their first meeting, which they hope will take place at the end of September or early October, he said.
Darnell said the University advertised the applications by reaching out to the SA, student organizations and multiple offices, including the Multicultural Student Services Center and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.
“I look forward to this board becoming an educational platform so that we have another vehicle for educating students on what we do, why we do it, how we do it, and how we are doing things to impact the student experience in a positive manner,” he said.
Nine of GW’s 12 peer schools have some version of a student-run police advisory group. The University of Pittsburgh and Tulane and Tufts universities both do not have a similar committee.
Campus safety experts said student patrols improve the relationship between campus police and students by providing an open forum for students to discuss their concerns with officials.
Derri Stormer, the patrol major at Wake Forest University’s police department, said she launched the university’s first student patrol in 2016 to allow students to act as “extra eyes and ears” for the department. She said the patrols could be used as a resource for students who want to be more involved with campus safety but aren’t sure how.
“We definitely want to make sure there’s not any distance between police and students, so the fact that we have this option here, it kind of bridges that gap a little bit,” Stormer said. “It helps us. There are no negatives to it.”
Kimberly Richmond, the director of the National Center for Campus Public Safety, said student police advisory groups help police effectively address crime because they increase the number of people actively reporting suspicious activity.
“Any time a police agency or security department engages with the community, it’s a positive thing,” she said. “Building relationships helps make the entire campus safer because people feel more connected and you’re really more knowledgeable about the process for reporting.”
She added that student input can help police departments address problems officers might not notice, like on-campus areas students frequent at night, so officials can add more lights to those locations and make students feel safer.
Laura Egan – the senior director of programs for the Clery Center, an organization that promotes campus safety – said students participating in a police advisory group can get a behind-the-scenes look at campus life, bridging the gap between law enforcement and the students they are protecting.
“Students benefit from peer messaging in a lot of ways, particularly around bystander intervention and things like that,” she said. “If you have students that are in that patrol capacity, they could possibly break down barriers where students have mistrust for law enforcement for whatever reason by having the benefit of being a peer.”
David Osher, the principal investigator for the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, said a student security group should be inclusive and represent students of all backgrounds to fight racial and implicit bias in policing. Osher added that it is imperative to include students in conversations about campus security because they are one of the “key beneficiaries” of the police departments’ work.
“I would want to make sure that there is a representation of women, as well as men, LGBTQ students and people of color because they may feel vulnerable and may also experience microaggressions,” he said.