Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber highlighted GUPD’s new Sexual Assault Response Team and addressed student concerns in light of the D.C. Policing Bill at a roundtable discussion in the Leavey Program Room on Feb. 10.
The proposed bill will increase GUPD jurisdiction and allow officers to handle student conduct situations off campus. As of press time, there is no scheduled date for the bill’s vote.
Gruber began the discussion by highlighting new safety initiatives GUPD has implemented, including the installation of card readers in residence halls and overall increased security.
GUPD continues to facilitate new “Run. Hide. Fight.” trainings for students, faculty and campus groups. These trainings outline how to deal with active shooter situations on campus. GUPD is also offering self-defense classes for both men and women.
“We put a lot of programs in place recently that I think sort of enhance the safety and security on campus,” Gruber said.
Gruber continued the discussion on GUPD initiatives by highlighting efforts addressing sexual misconduct. Gruber noted the assembly of the new Sexual Assault Response Team, and explained how the care needed to address cases involving survivors of sexual assault needed a specially trained team.
“If we screw this up, if we treat them badly, if we don’t provide them with the resources that they need, we have failed them,” Gruber said. “Getting the [SART] together was extremely important to me, and I am really happy we have that resource for survivors.”
A trained SART officer is available to the community 24 hours a day at GUPD, and Gruber encouraged survivors of sexual assault to take advantage of these specifically trained officers if they want to contact the police about their situation.
The roundtable soon turned to focus on the new bill proposed by the D.C. City Council, known as the D.C. Policing Bill. Many students at the roundtable expressed their concerns about the bill, which would increase jurisdiction for GUPD and give officers the freedom to handle student conduct issues off campus. Gruber, in an attempt to assuage fears and concerns, discussed the bill and dispelled myths surrounding it.
“It provides absolutely zero criminal jurisdiction. We can’t enforce laws off campus, we can’t enforce traffic law, criminal law, we can’t write criminal citations, any of that,” Gruber said. “What it provides for us is the ability for us to go offcampus for some sort of student conduct violation.”
If the bill is passed in its current state, GUPD would have to submit a safety plan to the Metropolitan Police Department for approval. Gruber believed such a relationship with MPD would provide oversight for GUPD’s increased jurisdiction as well as its actions in off-campus situations.
“The safety plan would be confirmed by MPD,” Gruber said. “So there are some checks and balances.”
Gruber also emphasized how he hoped there would be a collaborative approach taken to creating the safety plan, which would include input from students, faculty, administrators and all members of the Georgetown community.
Gruber also said he does not intend to use the bill to simply crack down on the social lives of students living off campus.
“I never want to see a lot of my police officers off-campus,” he said.
Following Gruber’s remarks on the bill, many students remain concerned with the bill’s potential effects on off-campus student living.
Off-campus Senator of the Georgetown University Student Association Senate and Intellectual Life Chair Eric Henshall (COL ’16) said he was concerned about the new pressures on students the bill would create.
“I think the big issue is that even if GUPD doesn’t want to use a lot of the expanded jurisdiction they have, I’m more concerned about pressure from the neighbors, pressure that may be coming from Chief Gruber’s superiors or future Chiefs of Police who would be looking to crack down on student life,” Henshall said.
Speaker of the GUSA senate and 2016 GUSA presidential candidate Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) noted there are strong elements of the bill, but GUSA and student government bodies at other D.C. universities, such as American University and The George Washington University, would like to see amendments and further revision to the authority of campus officers.
“The bill does have some great elements to it,” Khan said. “The main concern of course is administrative authority on off-campus matters.”
Director of the Student Advocacy Office Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16) also supports some of the provisions of the bill, but said the increased jurisdiction of GUPD could affect students in the long-term future.
“There are parts of this that make a lot of sense, increased training for special police officers, allowing special police officers to assist Metro in certain situations, but just extending jurisdiction is wrong,” Shymansky said.
Shymansky emphasized working in collaboration with Gruber and GUPD can create safer living environments for students in the short and long term.
“I think that working with Chief Gruber on this is something we can look to after the bill is passed,” Shymansky said. “On the immediate term, the focus needs to be on changing it so that it protects students and neighbors.”
Both Henshall and Khan noted Gruber’s willingness to engage with students on this issue. Henshall spoke highly of the SSAB as a reliable venue to voice student concerns to GUPD.
“It would be nice to see more departments in the university adopting that model,” Henshall said.
Toward the end of the roundtable, Gruber noted how GUPD does not exist to get students in trouble, but it is there to keep all students safe.
“The bottom line is, I’m here for the students. I’m not here for the police department to run an interdisciplinary program, I’m here to keep the students safe,” Gruber said.
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