GWPD should hire and arm experienced law enforcement officers

Editor’s note: The editorial board has rescinded its  stance on this issue. You can find the piece here

GW Police Department officers are not armed. But as GWPD leadership experiences turnover, the department has an opportunity to reevaluate the office and determine how to improve for the safety of its students. The majority of GW’s 12 peer institutions arm at least some of their police officers, and GW should follow suit.

Foggy Bottom has a relatively low crime rate compared to other areas of the District, but that does not mean the University should not be prepared for a dangerous incident. GWPD officers should not need to call the Metropolitan Police Department to ensure students’ safety in the event of a violent incident. GWPD officers should be prepared to interfere and prevent violence, but they cannot do so effectively without weapons.

The University has two types of police officers: security officers, who perform patrols in campus buildings, and special police officers, who can make arrests. The officers do not carry weapons and are not qualified to do so because they have not been trained to carry firearms. We cannot expect the University to invest years of time and money into training officers to properly use a gun, but we should proactively prevent tragic incidents. Some qualified officers with prior experience in using firearms should be hired to GWPD and armed to respond to emergency situations.

The majority of the University’s peer schools already arm some members of their respective police forces. New York University stations officers from the New York Police Department on campus to respond to emergency incidents, like an active shooter.  At Northeastern, Tufts and Boston universities, some campus police officers also carry weapons. While GW has the option to call MPD, the University should follow the lead of its peer institutions and arm some qualified officers.

GWPD officers are familiar with University buildings and are required to perform walkthroughs of campus buildings daily. GWPD officers serve as first responders and should be armed because they know the layout of campus buildings and can easily navigate a campus space if a violent event arises.

GWPD officers, not MPD officers, must be the first responders to dangerous incidents. Officers who could potentially risk their lives in dangerous situations would be adequately protected and prepared to face a threat if they were armed. Officers should not be expected to intervene and get students out of a dangerous situation if they are without a weapon. Armed GWPD officers should be first responders who have the same weapons as MPD, including a gun.

The University should not hand out weapons to any officer. Rather than training current officers to carry weapons, the University should implement a third category of officers who are already experienced in handling weapons. The officers could have worked for MPD or another police department. It is unreasonable to expect the University to effectively implement training for its officers to carry and use weapons with top leadership in flux. Hiring officers with on-the-job experience in handling weapons will ensure the University does not need to train its current police force.

Adding experienced officers to campus will also help maintain relationships students have already established with current GWPD officers. Police officers should instill trust in students, but arming all officers could undermine the relationship. Armed officers should not respond to noise complaints or break up parties. They should be on campus to respond to the unlikely case of an active shooter or another violent altercation.

GWPD should not be a middleman between the school and MPD for an emergency incident. GWPD should have the ability to adequately protect students with weapons.

Despite GWPD officers possibly dealing with dangerous situations every day, not all officers need to have a firearm, and they are not qualified to handle one. Training current officers to carry weapons would create tension between students and campus police. The University should only hire some officers who are qualified in handling firearms to give students the comfort in knowing there are on-campus armed officers who can respond to emergency situations.

The University should only arm some GWPD officers who are qualified and have experience using firearms. The University could lose the trust of its students and cause them to feel unsafe on their own campus by arming every officer, especially those whose responsibilities are only to patrol campus buildings. The University must ensure GWPD officers are not the middleman between MPD and the school, and it must arm some of its officers in the case of a violent incident.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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