Washington isn’t the safest city, and even Georgetown, an enclave of affluence, has its share of dangers. The Department of Public Safety must be able to protect the campus from real threats, but instead of making DPS more effective, University President John DeGioia’s plan to arm officers with batons and mace will put both students and officers at risk.
“Over the course of the next year, we will be working with the Department of Public Safety to provide them with the ability to use mace and a baton,” DeGioia announced at a faculty town hall meeting earlier this week. “As we examine what we’re asking of our officers … and we look at the best practices around the country, we believe that that’s an appropriate step for us to take.”
The Voice hopes that the examples of “best practices” that DeGioia referred to do not include the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Florida, where recent incidents, in which officers tasered students, demonstrated the risks of over-arming campus police. Georgetown experienced its own share of overzealous security when Kambiz Fattahi, a graduate student, was pulled out of a graduation ceremony by DPS officers because he looked suspicious.
The taserings and Fattahi’s ejection demonstrate the tense situations all campus security officers have to deal with. Rather than ameliorating these situations, though, adding weapons to the equation could cause interactions between students and officers to escalate more quickly.
DPS officers do face real threats and should be prepared for them, but providing officers with mace and batons is not the solution. In fact, equipping officers with weapons will convince some criminals that the best way to deal with DPS is to shoot first and think later. The University is better off trusting the more extensively trained officers of the Metropolitan Police Department to protect against violent criminals.
Instead of handing them new weapons, the University must improve DPS with more training in areas like crowd control and conflict resolution, as well as higher wages to attract more experienced recruits and retain officers who have accrued valuable experience at Georgetown. The University may hope the weapons will be an easy panacea for DPS’s myriad woes, including inadequate training, low wages and high turnover—even a shortage of bulletproof vests. Giving DPS officers weapons won’t make the Georgetown campus any safer. It’ll just make their jobs, and students’ lives, more dangerous.