There has been a public outcry by many to abolish the police in wake of the brutal killings of black bodies and the ensuing rise of racial tensions in America. Many proponents of this movement believe that white supremacy is a driving force behind America’s police departments. These proponents want to abolish the police in order to start fresh and create an institution that is free from American history. The same question is being asked of campus police across America, with their future on the line, including GWPD. I believe that while GWPD is far from perfect, the goal should not be abolition, but rather significant reformation.
GWPD advertises a number of services that operate as security and support services. The goal of the department is to create a safe and secure environment for all students. On campus, GWPD wields tremendous influence, as with an assertive nature that demands power from the student body. However, several questions must be asked of GWPD: Are they successful in their mission of protecting the school? Does their presence actually present a net positive for the GW community? Or are they just good at breaking up parties and making students feel uncomfortable?
The comparison between the police and campus police is largely baseless. GWPD doesn’t possess nearly the same capabilities as the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). In fact, one might be inclined to say that GWPD functions more like mall security than actual police. As GWPD is more reactive than proactive, reform is critical for the future of the institution. While GWPD hasn’t gone as far as brutalizing people, they should be doing more to familiarize themselves with the broader GW community. Many people on campus would not be able to identify a GWPD officer not wearing their uniform. Community engagement is a critical component of keeping the GW community safe. Additionally, members of the GW community deserve to know that GWPD is dedicated to serve and protect the community.
A study from Rochester, New York, concluded that police involvement is good for a community. Overall police involvement is a good thing for the community, and therefore good for GW students. The U.S. Department of Justice outlines several ways to build up the relationship between communities and police, namely the following: acknowledging the challenges of the relationship, increasing visibility within the community, taking steps to reduce bias and increase cultural competency, and increasing both transparency and accountability, These same ideals were included in the list of demands from the Black Student Union on GW’s campus. In their letter, the BSU states that they are “tired of [their] students being afraid of encountering GWPD when they walk across campus by themselves…” This is a reasonable concern, especially considering that GWPD pushed a girl down a flight of stairs in February. While the girl didn’t sustain significant injuries, many students were left with justifiable distrust of the department.
It would be incredibly helpful if GWPD hosted more events, such as meet and greets, where students could get to know the department. GWPD could also attend events and get to know students. It is necessary that GWPD enact these reforms specifically so that students of color feel more comfortable when GWPD officers are present, especially at a PWI.