The Wash
Picture of GWPD cop car

GW University officers have started to carry guns, and many students are unhappy

GWU students say arming campus police officers is unnecessary and that the university fails to address actual safety concerns.

The police department on the campus of George Washington University has started arming its police officers, and students are either unhappy with the decision or unaware it’s happening. 

Chief James Tate and Captain Gabe Mullinax, two George Washington Police Department officers, have been armed since the beginning of the school year. GWPD plans for additional supervisors to be armed in phases as requirements are met, according to GWPD’s website. 

Many GW students remain against guns on campus, but protests have quieted. (Katherine Hapgood/The Wash)

GWPD and the university declined to comment on the matter. 

Around campus, students seem to be divided into two camps. Either they protested the university’s announcement in April, or they were completely clueless about GW actively arming officers and their plan to eventually arm all officers on campus. 

Several students declined to comment on the arming of officers because they didn’t realize it was happening and were uninformed.

“I feel like it kind of just got sprung upon us, I don’t even remember hearing anything before it got released,” said Zachary Vargo, a junior at GW. “I didn’t hear that they were deciding about that or that the decision was possibly going to be made and then it just felt like they announced it and a good portion of the student body was upset about it.”

The decision was already made for students, said Trinity Vo, a sophomore at GW. 

“I feel like I just kind of heard about it and that’s that,” she said. 

Ella Krone, a sophomore at GW, said she felt that the decision was made behind closed doors. Krone protested back in April, with a large portion of the student body, because she felt an obligation as a white woman to speak out to protect students that the decision potentially harms the most.

“I think with GWPD, the only interactions they’ve had with any kind of violence used was almost exclusively with men of color, and they’re the ones that are most likely to be shot if GW police were to be armed,” Krone said.

The school buried the announcement in the middle of a lengthy block of text in an email sent to students in April titled ‘reimagining public safety’ at GW.”

In May, 219 GW faculty members signed a letter to the GW Board of Trustees, who made the decision to arm campus officers.

Three students sit chatting.
GW students Vargo and Ross say they were not included in the university’s decision to arm GWPD officers. Left to right Jenna Ross, Lauren Wahlmark, Zachary Vargo, all GW Juniors. (Katherine Hapgood/The Wash)

The letter said, “The April 13 announcement presents the decision as final, then purports to invite “feedback” concerning an “implementation plan” that will be considered by the Board “later this spring,” leaving very little time for community input and leaving us doubtful that there is real interest in considering our views. This is not consistent with a collegial atmosphere and the value of shared governance, and makes community members feel as if the University leadership and the Board of Trustees lack respect for faculty and student views or judgments.”

Some students agreed that guns were the least of the university’s worries in terms of campus safety. A few female students said they often felt unsafe at night, and that campus police have done nothing to address the issue.

The university has been obsessed with debating implementing guns on campus, rather than the general safety of students on campus, said Jenna Ross, a GW student. 

“As a female walking alone at night, I don’t feel the safest on campus, and I’ve had multiple altercations with several different men on campus that have made me scared,” she said. 

Vo said she also felt unsafe at night. 

“I feel like there’d be times where you’re walking late at night, and you’re alone too sometimes, and just being a woman in a city at night is scary anywhere,” Vo said. 

Data from the city shows that crime in ANC 2A, where GW is located, is up compared to last year, with about 310 incidents last year, and 370 incidents to date this year. However, it’s been an increase primarily in theft and robbery, not violent crimes.

Incidents in ANC 2A, which includes the GW campus, from January 1 to October 16 in 2022 and 2023. Data used: Crime Data DC. (Katherine Hapgood/The Wash)

There are no homicides to date in the area and assaults with a dangerous weapon are down 33% in comparison to the same time last year.

Some students say they feel even more unsafe with campus officers armed, especially in the context of protests happening in the city regarding the war between Israel and Hamas. 

“It’s definitely been a sense of feeling unsafe because there’s a lot of police presence with the protests,” Krone said.

Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s office and ANC Commissioner Dasia Bandy did not respond to calls seeking comment. 

Students also noted that there are a plethora of other armed police in the area.

“If there was a need for any gun I feel like by that time there’d be Metropolitan police coming,” Vargo said. “There’s Metropolitan police all over the place in the area, it’s not just campus police here.”

Two GWPD officers started carrying guns on campus this fall with more to follow over upcoming semesters. (Katherine Hapgood/The Wash)

Around Foggy Bottom, there are Metropolitan Police, Metro Police, Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, and now armed GW Police. An MPD spokesperson who declined to be named said MPD will continue to police the area the same as before, and GW is within the department’s jurisdiction.

Other universities in D.C. like Catholic University and Howard University have armed public safety officers on campus for the past several years, with Catholic finishing fully arming officers this August. 

ANC 1E, which includes Howard, has more overall incidents than the area around GWs. ANC 1E has had 556 overall incidents to date, compared to the 368 incidents to date in ANC 2A. ANC 5A, where Catholic is located, has had about the same amount of incidents to date as in ANC 2A.

However, GW, which is near the White House, the State Department, other government agencies, and the National Mall, is a much more highly policed area. 

Katherine Hapgood

I am a fellow at the Center for Public Integrity and a graduate student at American University studying investigative journalism and public affairs. This semester, I am covering the neighborhoods of Foggy Bottom and the West End. I primarily cover government access, accountability, and report on equity.

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