Hundreds of faculty sign letter urging Board of Trustees to reverse GWPD arming decision

Media Credit: File Photo by Isabella Lenarduzzi | Photographer

The letter states some students are “more comfortable” calling GWPD because officers don’t currently carry weapons.

Updated: May 2, 2023 at 12:07 a.m.

Hundreds of faculty members signed a letter urging the Board of Trustees to reverse its decision to arm roughly 20 of GW Police Department’s 50 officers this fall.

A total of 219 faculty members across 11 of GW’s schools and colleges addressed the letter to the Board and GW community, raising concerns over the lack of faculty and community input before the Board made the decision to arm officers and the “abruptness” of officials’ announcement last month. The letter states trustees left “very little” time for community feedback on the decision before officials present their arming “implementation plan” later this spring, leaving faculty doubtful that the Board has a “real interest” in considering faculty views.

The letter states the decision’s expedited feedback window is inconsistent with shared governance principles and a “collegial” atmosphere and makes community members feel that officials lack respect for student and faculty views. The letter states that the Board’s decision is “dubious” because it was made during the final months of Interim University President Mark Wrighton’s term and lacks “transparency” on the financial costs of arming some GWPD officers. The Board approved the shared governance principles in spring 2022, which state faculty have a “meaningful role” in key decision-making processes.

“We urge that GW reverse its decision to arm GWPD, and instead broaden our imagination about public safety in accord with the dignity of all persons,” the letter states.

University spokesperson Julia Metjian declined to comment on the Board’s response to the letter and how much officials plan to spend on arming some GWPD officers.

“Members of our community are expressing support, concerns and ideas for implementation in a variety of ways,” Metjian said in an email. “We will continue to provide opportunities for additional engagement as our implementation plans take shape.”

Wrighton said in an April email announcing the decision that the University will launch an “effort” to gather community feedback on implementation before some GWPD officers are armed next fall. He said community members can submit comments and questions to the GWPD website. In an April 13 email to the GW community, Wrighton cited “tragic instances” of mass gun violence and the University’s “densely populated” setting as part of the decision to arm some GWPD officers next fall.

“You see in the news, sadly, virtually every day, violence that stems from the use of guns,” Wrighton said in an interview with The Hatchet. “We know that this is a huge problem. I’ve seen educational institutions, including higher education institutions, very seriously affected.”

The letter states the decision to arm some GWPD officers is “inconsistent” with the “dignity of all persons” and repeats a “predominant pattern” of police relying on violent methods.

The letter includes references to armed campus police violence towards Black students and community members at other universities, like a University of Cincinnati police officer shooting and killing Samuel Dubose, an unarmed Black student, at an off-campus traffic stop in 2015 and Portland State University police officers fatally shooting Jason Washington, a Black man, who was attempting to break up a fight at an off-campus college bar. The letter also cites an instance at Harvard University last month where campus police held four students at gunpoint during a ‘swatting’ attack in a student residence hall.

“We have seen this story over and over in our society,” the letter states. “We have seen how armed police have continuously harmed and killed unarmed civilians, especially Black and other persons of color.”

The letter states the University should train GW community members on how to “illuminate” the dignity of all people and practice “deep empathy” to broaden the University’s imagination of public safety. The letter stated the University should train community members on how to use nonviolent forms of communication, de-escalation tactics and “nonviolent” self-defense training.

“The GWU announcement does not adequately reflect consideration of what it means to increase encounters with police who have guns in our University community,” the letter states.

The letter states the “vast majority” of GWPD dispatches require officers to resolve conflicts and “pacify” intoxicated students, citing GWPD’s departmental statistics that show officers detained 12 people in 2022, all of whom were not carrying weapons or contraband.

The letter also cites a “meta-analysis” of studies on the “weapons effect,” which concludes armed persons are more likely to believe others are armed and that the presence of weapons increases an armed person’s aggression. The letter states some students are “more comfortable” calling GWPD because officers don’t currently carry weapons.

“This is not the student experience we should be striving for at this University,” the letter states.

This post has been updated to include the following:
This post was updated with a statement from Metjian. This post has also been updated to clarify that armed persons are more likely to believe others are armed, which increases an armed person’s aggression.

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