Last year, we urged GWPD to hire armed officers – that was a mistake

Last year, The Hatchet’s editorial board called on the GW Police Department to arm “experienced” officers. We discussed how GW should align itself with its peer schools, which train law enforcement personnel to respond to tragic incidents like school shootings. Yet as the nation continues to be gripped by protests demanding an end to police brutality, we have an obligation to meet the moment and honestly reassess our argument. The position we staked out focused too much on the few upsides to such a policy and inadequately considered the many risks of arming campus police, especially to students of color.

The editorial was ill-conceived and wrong from the start.

In writing the piece, we focused on our peer schools and the policies they had enacted. We fixated on the few hypothetical benefits while failing to properly weigh the colossal drawbacks of arming GWPD. We assumed adopting a policy similar to that of peers like Northeastern, Tufts and Boston universities would grant GWPD the ability to respond rapidly to incidents like assaults, robberies or school shootings – the latter of which has been a paramount concern for students across the country. But GW, located in one of the safest parts of the District, has never grappled with a tragedy that like the ones we imagined, and we inflated the odds of such an event without considering the downsides.

In reality, the effect of armed campus policing would be overwhelmingly detrimental to the wellbeing of students of color at GW. Many Black students rightly feel unsafe around armed campus law enforcement, especially since campus police are more likely to be suspicious of them and question whether they belong on campus. Tensions between students and GWPD run high already, and arming officers would only make the situation more dangerous. On top of that, students subjected to armed campus policing at our peer schools and other universities are working to disarm their police departments – information we should have considered before we published the editorial.

Police officers nationwide are more likely to stop and use force against Black people. Although GWPD and other campus police departments differ from state and local police agencies, introducing firearms nonetheless dramatically increases the chances that an encounter between a student of color and a GWPD officer could end in serious injury or death. This reality, which was clear but inadequately considered at the time of the piece, is thrown into even starker relief by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and countless other Black people nationwide. We apologize for not giving these serious negatives the weight that they deserve.

It is clearer now than ever that arming GWPD is not a solution – rather, it would contribute to an atmosphere of hostility and present a real danger to Black and brown students. We stand instead with the Black Student Union’s demands to improve GWPD. In a letter to GWPD, BSU has called for a zero-tolerance policy for officers who act on racial bias, to decrease reliance on the Metropolitan Police Department, to minimize GWPD’s presence at events hosted by Black students and to increase communication between the department and student leaders. We believe that GWPD needs to meet and exceed the demands set out by BSU, which should be seen as a starting point for greater reform and conversation on campus.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus.

Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.