Nearly nine months after the former senior associate vice president for safety and security abruptly left, administrators have selected a new GW Police Department leader. More importantly, GWPD has been given another chance to start fresh.
James Tate will be the fifth person to oversee GWPD in two years, bringing with him experience as the former chief of police at Rice University but taking over an office with many unanswered questions about administrative changes. In a department plagued by turnover, Tate’s new leadership gives the GW community an opportunity to develop goals for the direction of the office.
Tate has mentioned intentions to introduce community policing, meaning that GWPD officers would prioritize building relationships with the community. At a school where GWPD has sometimes lacked community trust, bringing in a new approach to policing could help the department rebuild. As Tate takes over a historically shaky office, he should present plans to institute community policing that prioritizes trust, communication and relationships.
Some student organizations have criticized GWPD for its role in race relations in past years, alleging that GWPD contributes to a national issue of distrust between civilians and police. Student trust has also been damaged by past incidents, like a 2017 lawsuit that alleged GWPD arrested an admitted student who was the victim of domestic abuse.
Taking a community policing approach can help build trust while making students feel safer and more comfortable around officers. The department could create a website to report police discrimination, which students advocated for in 2015. GWPD should also increase the number of programs that educate students and community members about GWPD procedure and host discussions among officers, administrators and students to allow community members to voice concerns.
In the past, GWPD has aimed to build trust through the Connect Program, which brought officers and students together in an informal environment. Officials also created a student advisory board in 2018 to help GWPD identify safety concerns and work with students. Tate should institute more programs that allow students and officers to get to know each other.
Tate should also consider some of our peer schools’ programs aimed at building community trust. At Boston University, officials hired a veteran officer with roots in the community to serve as deputy chief. The Georgetown University Police Department has worked to quantify racial incidents between police officers and students and administrators hosted an open forum for students and officials to discuss racial bias in policing. Members of the University of Southern California can have a say in policing by participating in the school’s Cadet Program, which allows people to learn about policing and criminal justice. The University of Miami’s police chief gets to know students by taking them out to lunch and asking them for suggestions to improve the office’s policing. GW’s peers have made an effort to take a community approach to policing by prioritizing trust and communication – and GWPD should do the same.
To regain the trust of the community, officers must build a better relationship and work to understand the needs of campus. One way GWPD has improved community relations in the past was by changing its policy on liquor law violations to only EMeRG students if emergency medical services finds them over-intoxicated. Policies that minimize the need for GWPD to intervene will alleviate some concerns about interacting with officers.
Community policing can easily be a buzzword that does not solve real problems, but it can also be a framework for bridging the divide between officer morale, campus safety and student satisfaction. Externally, some students do not trust GWPD. Internally, GWPD officers may lack morale as several officials have shuffled in and out of the department. Community policing, which brings accountability in the form of open forums and relationships, is a compromise that can solve GWPD’s external and internal problems.
It will be easier for Tate to improve campus safety measures if he has the trust of students and the broader GW community. He must implement a stronger community policing approach that is grounded in communication, trust and community relationships.
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 copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.