Students and neighbors met Wednesday night to hash out details of a D.C. Council bill that would would allow University Police Department officers to patrol off campus.
The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the neighborhood group that held the meeting, will formally suggest changes to the bill based on the discussion. During the nearly two-hour-long meeting, students and neighbors asked for more specifics in the bill, which they said was vague and hard to understand.
The bill is the most formal effort to send UPD officers off campus in recent years, and would impact all campus police officers in D.C. Officers would also be able to assist at other institutions in the event of an emergency, an effort that Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier would oversee.
Attendees asked for definitions about what the Council considers on- or off-campus locations, whether satellite campuses like the Mount Vernon Campus would be counted in the legislation and how crime data would be tracked.
ANC Commissioner Florence Harmon said the bill is “elitist” and “offensive” because it allows university students living off campus to avoid dealing with the Metropolitan Police Department when breaking city laws.
“I’m a little bit worried that we’re granting kids who come from privileged backgrounds a pass, versus the teenager in southeast who’s partying and doing the same thing,” Harmon said.
Eve Zhurbinskiy, an ANC commissioner and a sophomore, said at the meeting she is concerned that the official D.C. Council hearing for the bill will be on March 17, when many students will be away from GW for spring break and unable to testify in person.
“I think that kind of takes away our student’s voice from on the bill,” Zhurbinskiy said.
The commissioners agreed to ask the Council to postpone the hearing date, so that more university students could attend.
The Student Association opposed the bill last month, saying it would threaten the safety of students on campus. Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie had introduced the bill in December. GW has yet to take a public stance on proposal, but did seek to empower UPD off campus in 2013.
Student Association President Andie Dowd spoke at the beginning of the meeting and said she remains neutral on the bill. She said she knows student leaders from other institutions in D.C. are concerned that the police jurisdiction could be controlled by one person. She said she plans to meet with McDuffie’s office to discuss the bill further.
“I look forward to meeting with them and hopefully coming up with a more concrete decision on what the student body is feeling,” Dowd said.
Marina Streznewski, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association and a long-time neighbor, said the FBA will hold trainings to teach community members and students to about how to effectively testify in front of the Council.