The Illusion of Safety
by Harry Hudesman
Like many other outsiders, members of the law school community move to the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington D.C. not just for its proximity to the beautiful George Washington University but because of the desire for safety. Unfortunately, as a student, I receive more emails from GW about robberies by knifepoint and gun crimes than I do Facebook notifications.
It’s hard to believe that GW is so vulnerable to this type of crime, especially considering the position of the University near the White House, and many other well secured federal and international government buildings. With the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, D.C. Metro, D.C. Protective Services, FBI Uniformed Division, and other law enforcement agencies all within a matter of blocks from campus, it is puzzling to many why there have been so many incidents near GW.
The reason for the high crime rate is simple: we live in a community filled with relatively wealthy university students who live under the illusion of safety, when in reality we’re all being “protected” by a largely inefficent university police force. Thieves know that they can come to campus, snatch a wallet, iPhone, laptop or bicycle and get away without any real difficulty. Although we’re literally surrounded by law enforcement, the aforementioned agencies pay little to no attention to university affairs (unless the President or other VIP decide to visit campus). What is the solution? Arm the University Police Department (UPD).
Concerned alumnus and GW Law student, Alex Weinstein (B.A ‘10) noted in a letter to President Knapp and Dean Berman that “George Washington University remains one of the only locations in the District of Columbia that is unsecured by an armed police department.” Students come from around the world to study at this superior academic institution, yet they have a false sense of security.
The university has hidden behind the illusory protection of the surrounding law enforcement agencies as evidenced by its support for the ill trained UPD. Giving proper training to UPD officers to carry and operate firearms would allow for effective GW-specific patrolling, instead of mere after-the-fact responses from already overworked agencies.
While there is a concern about releasing dangerous firearms to a group of undertrained officers, that doesn’t have to be the reality. By investing in training courses for officers, the school would be investing in GW’s safety and security, and consequently in the University’s well-being and scholarship. Arming the UPD officers would allow for recruitment of more qualified officers because many trained officers will not take a job that pays less and requires less skill. While there remains a threat that firearms may be wrested from their persons, perhaps in dormitories, that same threat exists with the other agencies that may get involved on campus. Well-trained officers would have the ability to retain their firearms as professionally as other agencies yet focus purely on the University. GW will grow as a more respected place to learn and settle when it can exist without the lingering fear that resides in the minds of many GW students. The current inability of UPD to deter criminals is simply unacceptable. Criminals have become keenly aware of the lack of security around the campus and that is why the targeting of students has persisted.
Until the demand for security actually strikes a chord with University administration, it is crucial that students remain cognizant of the ever-present threat. It is easy to forget that there is substandard protection in such a beautiful D.C. environment. With an endowment far surpassing $1 billion, it’s hardly outlandish to ask that a fraction of that be used to protect the students that make GW the vibrant university it has become. Hopefully it won’t take a tragedy worse than mere theft to make proper safety in Foggy Bottom a reality instead of a mere illusion.