What's in a Name?
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 06:03
The Department of Public Safety plans to change its name to “Georgetown University Police Department” are intended to clarify its role in the eyes of the student body and larger campus community, but the manner in which this change has taken place has instead led to confusion.
Chief of Police Jay Gruber cited clarity as the reason for the change, asserting that the new name is a more precise description of the services DPS provide. Public safety departments at other universities provide services — such as emergency management, protocol and even environmental health and safety — that Gruber says DPS does not.
Part of the confusion lies in the reality that DPS does offer some of these services: SafeRides, neighborhood shuttles and self-defense workshops all fall under the umbrella of services public safety departments typically provide. At the same time, because DPS does not seem to be a full-fledged police department — it lacks EMT-certified officers and the clearance to carry lethal weapons — the “GUPD” title is not completely accurate, either. A separate DPS and GUPD could alleviate confusion instead of trying to fit several different services and roles under a single title, or at the very least a published list of clear roles and responsibilities that come with the new title.
It is uncertain what this name change means for students. Students have cause for concern when disciplinary crackdowns on partying and excessive noise come amid spats of laptop thefts and burglaries. The semantic shift seems only to reinforce this complaint.
What’s more, DPS has yet to make a complete shift to the new name, making it difficult to ascertain which label is currently functioning under. Public safety emails continue to refer to the department as DPS, while others refer to the body as GUPD.
When members of the Georgetown community find themselves in harm’s way, titles often become trivial. What is relevant, however, is whether students believe they are primarily being policed, or protected.