GW Police Department overhaul boosted force morale, officers say

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

GWPD officers Tyler Strawsburg and Collin Felix said working on a college campus is a better fit for them than city policing, because students are generally more respectful toward them than residents.

For two GW Police Department officers, a typical shift could involve anything from responding to smoke detector alarms to apprehending a suspect for simple assault.

But two GWPD officers said they enjoy policing on a college campus because the job is less dangerous than working at a city police department, and students are generally more grateful than city residents are for the department’s assistance.

Two Hatchet reporters spent four hours shadowing GWPD officers in a ride-along, which students can request on the Division of Safety and Security website. During the ride-along, GWPD officers Tyler Strawsburg and Collin Felix said working on a college campus is a better fit for them than city policing, because students are generally more respectful toward them than residents.

“Students will be respectful to you and are here to better themselves, get education, instead of being unsafe and dealing with hardcore criminals all day, who want to fight you at every turn,” Strawsburg said.

Responsibilities on the job
Felix and Strawsburg said predicting the type and frequency of calls they receive during a shift is difficult because there’s no such thing as a “typical” shift.

At the beginning of every shift, GWPD officers gather for roll call, during which they receive their shift assignments and are told anything else they may need to be aware of while on duty, like an event happening on campus or a protocol update.

GWPD officers usually report for one of three shifts, known as the A, B or C shifts. Felix and Strawsburg reported for the C shift Friday and met for roll call at 2:45 p.m. before heading out on campus at about 3 p.m. The C shift lasts from 3 to 11 p.m. and is typically the busiest shift of the day because more students are out of their residence halls getting dinner or going to parties, the officers said.

“Sometimes, students see us patrolling through a building, they always think, ‘Why are you here? Is something wrong?’” Felix said.

Felix said students often underestimate GWPD officers’ range of responsibilities. GWPD can complete most tasks that Metropolitan Police Department officers do, like arresting individuals, but are not armed with guns or tasers.

Felix said GWPD should boost community policing tactics, like increasing social media posts and hosting events for students, to improve community relations with students and University employees.

Changes in department positions 
The department’s leadership hierarchy fell into a monthslong transition phase after Chief RaShall Brackney and Assistant Chief Michael Glaubach simultaneously resigned last January. Darrell Darnell, the former senior associate vice president of safety and security, quietly left his position in March.

The University hired alumnus and former GWPD officer Scott Burnotes as the associate vice president of safety and security in June.

Strawsburg and Felix said officer morale was low at the time of the transition, but the changes did not affect their daily schedules.

“Even with the leadership changes, we’re still going to come in here every day, do the job the same way unless we’re told differently,” Felix said.

Adapting to new leaders
Felix said having a former GWPD officer leading the department will help officers form a mutual understanding of the daily duties and challenges officers face on the job.

“I think folks at the higher level are definitely becoming more appreciative of what we do on a day-to-day basis, because they realize sometimes we do deal with a lot,” Felix said. “We’re not just out here, hanging out, having fun.”

Felix said he and Strawsburg responded to a fire on the ninth floor of Amsterdam Hall last month, and Burnotes sent them an email thanking them for their efficiency on the job.

He said Interim Chief of Police Mary Paradis and Burnotes have been communicative with officers and frequently praise officers for quality work, which contributes to the uplift in morale after months of leadership turnover.

“She’s a straight shooter,” Felix said. “I like Mary, because she won’t keep you in the dark on things. And she’ll tell you how it is, which is good.”

Felix said Paradis is responsive to officers’ ideas for the department and open to implementing the ideas if they provide her with enough reasoning.

“Mary’s the kind of individual who I can go to with some kind of new idea and she won’t just throw it off the side,” he said. “She’ll say, explain to me five reasons why that idea is, is worthwhile. And then, if you can give her those reasons, she’s the type of woman who will say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

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