- George Washington University police who would be armed with handguns under a new campus safety plan would need to complete a virtual reality training simulator and a 56-hour firearm course that includes information about nonlethal force and liability.
- Campus administrators last month released this new part of a safety proposal and are accepting public feedback on it until June 23. The university is also proposing changes to its policy around officers’ use of force.
- George Washington first announced in April it intended to arm some of its police force. Administrators look to be moving forward with the idea despite pushback from students and faculty who say it will not improve campus security.
Shootings this year at Michigan State University, the University of Virginia and a Tennessee elementary school prompted George Washington University trustees to demand campus officials arm some of their police force on its Washington, D.C. campuses.
But after George Washington’s interim president shared the plan in April, students and faculty immediately rallied against it, including through protests and petitions. They argued arming police who mostly traffic in low-level incidents like public intoxication won’t bolster campus safety and could instead contribute to further erosion of relationships between students and officers.
More details of the plan are starting to emerge. George Washington’s student press, The GW Hatchet, first reported in April the institution wants to arm about 20 of the roughly 50 officers with 9 mm handguns.
Now, the university wants to improve trainings police must undertake and broaden accountability measures.
In addition to the multi-hour firearm training and virtual reality course, armed officers would need to complete an accredited police academy program before receiving weapons, James Tate, George Washington’s chief of police, wrote in an essay in the Hatchet last month.
University officials are also evaluating existing mandatory training programs, including in areas like trauma-informed interview techniques and implicit biases. They said they will review these trainings annually going forward.
George Washington is planning to start an independent review committee composed of students and employees who will consider any complaints brought against campus police officers over their use of firearms.
The university wants to release a report every year about use of force on campus, beginning in spring 2024.
The proposed use of force policy states use of force can’t be lethal if a subject only poses a threat to themselves or property. It also doesn’t allow officers to fire warning shots, or fire at or from a moving vehicle.
“As we progress with our implementation planning, we are eager to continue to hear from students, faculty, and staff regarding their reactions and suggestions,” Sharon Reich Paulsen, executive vice president and chief administration officer, said in a statement last month. “Comments already received have proven extremely helpful; we look forward to hearing more as we work to support safety on our campuses.”
GWU enrolls more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It has two campuses in D.C. and one in Northern Virginia.