On my first GW tour, the first thing I found strange was the number of police officers wandering about Foggy Bottom. I saw officers from the U.S. Capitol Police, GW Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service. I wasn’t used to coexisting around such a high volume of police officers – nor did I think they were needed on campus.
The United States is in the middle of a revolutionary moment where the country is being forced to grapple with a serious systemic problem between race and policing. Amid the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and countless other Black Americans, we must ensure the national spotlight on police departments across the country extends to the local level too, starting with D.C. police. MPD must reconsider its presence across the District and on campus and undertake serious reform that reflects the new national conversation surrounding policing.
The constant police presence in Foggy Bottom is detrimental to our campus’ sense of community and is at minimum potentially harmful – and at worst, possibly fatal – for residents of color given the department’s history regarding police killings. This isn’t to say Foggy Bottom needs no police whatsoever, or that police are unnecessary in some situations. The reality is that police are still needed in many areas of life, but they are often present when unneeded, potentially exacerbating delicate situations.
When GWPD gets a call for a situation they cannot handle or that needs to be processed through the District, they call MPD. This results in armed MPD officers roaming the hallways of our residence halls and academic buildings, creating an uncomfortable environment for all students and faculty. Students who should be concerned and preoccupied with their studies are instead concerned and preoccupied with the police presence. Administrators should recognize how disruptive MPD presence truly is and ensure inviting MPD to campus is an absolute last option by opting for a greater focus on de-escalation.
In response to student calls for change, GWPD has recently rolled out a series of reforms involving training and the use of body cameras. The new measures, which include training on bias, de-escalation techniques and defense tactics, are great demonstrations of how police forces should change behavior in response to complaints by the civilians they serve. Body cameras in particular will help foster accountability with police actions. For instance, the incident last fall where a student was pushed down a flight of stairs by officers would have reached a quicker conclusion had the offending parties been wearing body cameras to show what actually happened on those steps.
GWPD has shown that they are actively meeting calls to change, and it is time for MPD to do the same. They must decrease their presence in communities across the District and expand their reform efforts. The D.C. Council recently passed an emergency police reform bill that requires the swift release of body camera footage to the public, limits the use of deadly force and bans the department from buying military-grade equipment. While this is a start to addressing the reforms that need to happen within the department, it does not go far enough. After a three-hour-long debate in the Council, they decided to delay cutting or shrinking the size of the police force. They also have not discussed increasing social programs that would aid in taking the extremely vast workload from officers to those better equipped.
Serious reform is going to take time, but there is no time like the present to start conversations and create plans for change.
Hannah Thacker, a junior majoring in political communication, is the opinions editor.
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