By Sarah George| June 5th, 2018
On Saturday April 21, 2018, James Shaw Jr. demonstrated tremendous valor and heroism, wrestling an AR-15 style rifle away from an active shooter at a Tennessee Waffle House while both unarmed and injured. His actions were inarguably extraordinary, but--make no mistake--his success was exceptional, and James could have easily been another life lost to America’s ongoing struggle with mental health and gun violence. Instead, he is a hero. This dichotomy is important as it is the one that Georgetown's present policy towards armed security offers: victimhood or heroism.
Currently, Georgetown’s Police Department (GUPD) is equipped with “soft tactical weapons.” This excludes firearms, leaving the men and women of GUPD to face an active shooter while armed with only chili water and sticks. This is not only inane, it demonstrates a flagrant disregard for students and the officers duty bound to protect them. And yet, according to Georgetown’s Media Relations Manager, Matt Hill, Georgetown’s “top priority is the safety and security of our community and we are constantly working to prevent violence…”
But perhaps Georgetown’s administration is angling for heroism. After all, in 2015, three GUPD officers successfully apprehended an armed robbery suspect without incident--a feat that was rightly honored as an exemplary demonstration of courage and selflessness. However, to treat that individual triumph as a replicable norm would be foolhardy in the extreme. Firstly, there is an undeniable difference in intent between an individual who is using a weapon as a means of coercion, such as a thief, and one who is using a weapon for the singular purpose of killing as many people as possible. Secondly, in order to gain the upper hand, an unarmed individual is almost wholly reliant on the gunman being incompetent with a firearm and either fumbling to reload or being plagued by an inability to hit the broad side of a barn. But active shooters are rarely--if ever--gun novices. They are a dangerous nexus of slaughter-centric and gun savvy, and putting an implicit mandate on unarmed GUPD officers to respond heroically is utterly unconscionable.
Currently, under the FAQ section of GUPD’s active shooter page, it states that in an active shooter situation, both GUPD and the Metropolitan Police Department will respond. However, it is important to note that Metro PD does not have the same level of familiarity with Georgetown’s campus as GUPD, something that would invariably impede their ability to navigate an active shooter situation. Moreover, MPD’s reported response time, according to their annual report, is 7 minutes and 13 seconds. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting lasted approximately 5 minutes. The 2014 Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting lasted approximately 4 minutes. The 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting lasted approximately 7 minutes. And the recent shooting in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lasted just 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Metro PD would not have arrived in time to act in these instances, and arriving after the shooting has ceased does not constitute response. It constitutes clean-up.
Conversely, two recent incidents demonstrate the value of having armed security on campus. In March, a shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland was brought to an abrupt halt by an armed school resource officer, and just a few weeks ago, another shooting at Dixon High School in Illinois was similarly handled by an armed school resource officer. While these instances do not guarantee that arming on-campus security will prevent tragedy, they clearly demonstrate that in an active shooter situation, an immediate response is far superior to an imminent one.
In recognition of this, student group Georgetown University Advocates for Responsible Defense (GUARD) petitioned President DeGioia in April in the hope that the administration would recognize the pressing need for more stringent security measures on campus. However, not everyone at Georgetown believes arming GUPD is desirable. In response to GUARD’s call to arm GUPD, both The Hoya and student group Georgetown United Against Police Aggression (GUAPA) came out in opposition, citing concerns about the treatment and targeting of minorities on campus. Ironically, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia (both of which are Historically Black Colleges and have a majority black student body) are each protected by an armed police force. Additionally, GUAPA’s letter to President DeGioia did not even cite any specific incident of racial profiling or discriminatory behavior at the hands of GUPD. This indicates that their protests are likely mostly informed by an entrenched distrust of and hostility towards law enforcement, something that, while perhaps not empirically supported, understandably impacts their opinion on whether or not GUPD should be armed. Glen Waters and Kaitlyn Reynolds, both rising sophomores in the College, spoke to me at length about the impact arming GUPD would have on Georgetown’s African-American community. Expressing concern over the escalation firearms could cause on campus, Mr. Waters stated, “If GUPD were armed and they, for example, responded to a noise complaint at a black party… I’m not saying things would go bad, but there is a higher possibility that it could.” In contrast, Miss Reynolds refuted the idea that GUPD systemically targets minority students, saying, “While I don’t want to invalidate the experiences or feelings of another student, I don’t believe we have a racial profiling issue on campus.” However, she too is against the idea of arming GUPD.
At the present moment, Georgetown University’s Advocates for Responsible Defense and Georgetown United Against Police Aggression are allied in their desire to make Georgetown’s campus safer for students, staff, and faculty. But while everyone can agree that even one life lost to gun violence is one too many, a consensus on how to best address the threat of an active shooter has remained elusive since GUARD and GUAPA are diametrically opposed when it comes to arming GUPD. However, GUAPA’s concerns about GUPD can be easily mitigated by outsourcing to one of the numerous private security companies in D.C. such as Maryland Security Professionals. These are highly trained men and women whose unitary purpose would be ensuring the safety and security of the Georgetown community should an active shooter or commensurate situation arise. It would not be their responsibility to break up parties, provide late night escorts, or otherwise imitate GUPD, thereby making the risk of things going awry due to part and parcel misunderstandings or poorly timed demonstrations of liquid courage slim to none. Thus, hiring professional third-party security with a clearly delineated charter to protect--not police--would be the best plan to appease both GUARD and GUAPA.
Since the Parkland shooting earlier this year, schools across America have increasingly wrestled with questions of security in the face of what feels like an endless stream of school shootings. For many, what is practical, what is palatable, and what is possible have become mutually exclusive conceptions, but despite the fact that Georgetown was not exempt from polarizing discourse about the state of campus safety and security, compromise, on this issue, is both feasible and favorable on the hilltop. Thus, while the cost of hiring private security might be downright ulcer-inducing, at the end of the day, Georgetown should probably consider spending more on the lives of its students and less on the landscaping.
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