While some of GW’s residence halls require students to tap in with their GW IDs around the clock, two residence halls lack security more than 95 percent of the time, an analysis by The Hatchet found.
The University does not promise 24/7 security coverage for residence halls, but student access monitors – the students who check IDs – are scheduled for shifts across buildings 24 hours a day. The Hatchet checked security desks at District House and Amsterdam, South and Shenkman halls for 31 days at 10 a.m., 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.
A security monitor was present during 2 percent of total checks in Amsterdam Hall, 4 percent of checks in South Hall, 73 percent of checks in Shenkman Hall, 46 percent of checks at the H Street entrance of District House and 94 percent of checks at the I Street entrance of District House. Officials said the discrepancy is the result of prioritizing security in buildings with more public access.
Thirteen student access monitors declined to speak about their jobs, citing a University policy to not speak to the media. Two monitors did not return requests for comment.
Larger staff is not present
Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security, said some residence halls, like Thurston Hall, require ID checks 100 percent of the time. Residence halls with more public access – like District House and Shenkman Hall – require a double-tap system, where a resident taps into the public lobby first and then into the residence-only section of the hall, he said.
“Even with the double-tap system, SAMs provide an additional layer of safety and security and can be a service to students by answering general informational questions,” Darnell said in an email.
He said monitors were not present in South and Amsterdam halls at the beginning of the semester “as often” because other residence halls have historically experienced higher crime rates or have more public entrances.
GW Police Department has responded to unlawful entries to Shenkman, South and Amsterdam halls once each this semester, according to the University crime log. Only two other reports of unlawful entry have occurred in other residence halls since the beginning of the semester.
Student access monitors are scheduled for shifts that are a minimum of two hours, and while the department asks students to commit to working at least eight hours each week, some students work up to 20 hours a week, Darnell said.
GWPD employs about 150 to 200 students a semester, according to the department’s website. The department has hired more than 100 new monitors – who are in different stages of hiring and training – since Oct. 1, Darnell added.
“Once everyone is trained, our SAM program will be operating at normal levels comparable to previous years and our community should see more SAMs in more locations around campus,” Darnell said.
But from Oct. 14 to Nov. 13, no security monitors were present at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. in Amsterdam or South halls, and at 10 p.m., monitors were not present 94 percent of the time in Amsterdam Hall and 87 percent of the time in South Hall.
Shenkman Hall did not have a security monitor present 45 percent of the time at 10 a.m. and 13 percent of the time at 4 p.m. Student access monitors were present 77 percent of the time at 10 p.m.
District House has two entrances on H Street – one to the residence hall and one to the basement food court – and one on I Street, which provides public access to the basement food court and Peet’s Coffee until 10 p.m.
When the H Street residence hall entrance was checked at 10 a.m., monitors were only present 6 percent of the time, while at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., monitors were present 65 percent of the time. Monitors were present an average of 94 percent of the time at the I Street entrance over the month.
“The three entrances to District House provide different levels of public and private access and as such, we adjust and assign the SAM students to meet the needs of the entrance,” Darnell said.
Darnell said GW continuously analyzes factors like crime trends when determining how to staff security in its buildings. He declined to say what shifts or residence halls the department schedules for student access monitors or GWPD officers, saying the information could encourage criminal behavior.
The Office of Safety and Security also utilizes an “extensive” security camera system on both the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses, which allows GWPD to monitor and review activity in residence halls’ public areas and all lobbies of campus buildings, he said.
Safety without monitors
Student Association President Ashley Le said it’s “important to understand” why certain residence halls have monitors while other buildings, like Guthridge and Francis Scott Key halls, do not. She said for residence halls that do not have monitors, officials must ensure that there are security systems in place for students.
“It’s important for the University to clarify why there is a lack of SAMs presence there and what other steps of security that are in place to make sure students feel safe even without student access monitors,” Le said.
Mikey Chadha – a sophomore who serves on the GWPD Student Advisory Board, a group launched earlier this year to discuss campus safety with officials – said officials should strategize where to station tap monitors instead of spreading them out everywhere.
“You could put an officer at every building at every dorm, but do you really want to live in a police state?” Chadha said.
Security at GW’s peer schools
The University’s 12 peer schools offer various levels of security, five of which are similar to GW.
The University of Pittsburgh and New York, Tufts and Northeastern universities – all also located in cities – guarantee 24/7 security coverage for each residence hall, according to their websites and administrators. Boston University provides 24/7 security at main entrances of residences with “large” student populations, according to the school’s housing website.
Peter DiDomenica, a lieutenant at Boston University’s police department, said factors like residence hall population should be taken into consideration when determining what kind of security measures a university maintains.
“A decision has to be made about what’s practical and what can be achieved with the resources that are at hand as well, so it’s a complicated process to make a decision about these security procedures,” he said.
The University of Southern California utilizes fingerprint scanners to verify student access to residence halls on top of checking student IDs, and unarmed public safety officers monitor the security system 24/7.
Three additional peer schools specify coverage depending on the time of day. Student employees at the University of Miami monitor residence hall entrances between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., “desk assistants” are present at “many” residence halls at Tulane University between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and “residential security aides” at Syracuse University provide coverage at “night,” according to their websites.
GW’s five remaining peer schools do not specify what times their residence halls receive security coverage. Georgetown University and the University of Rochester hire student guards to supplement security guards at residence hall entrances, and Wake Forest University assigns police officers as liaisons to specific buildings and residence halls.
Thirty-three Hatchet staff members contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the November 19, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.