GWU Profs Offer Bizarre Arguments Against Arming Its Campus Police

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GWU Profs Offer Bizarre Arguments Against Arming Its Campus Police; Strangely, Most of Their Examples Contradict Their Own Claims

GWU’s Bizarre Arguments

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 1, 2023) – Having been informed by its president that, “After more than a year of . . review of safety data and best practices, and input from experts, the Board of Trustees has directed the university administration to develop an implementation plan for arming specially trained GWPD supervisory officers,” a small group of faculty are sending a strange letter of objection.

A tiny group of what were termed “leftist students” has already made their own illogical arguments, claiming that:

“GW is arming GWPD, a private police force that CONTINUES to assault and harm students . . . This is an attack on black and brown students” [although both the Chief of Police who will be implementing this, and the second highest ranking GWU administrator, as well as many campus police, are persons of color] . . . This is an attack on the poor and the working class. This is an attack on DC residents, who will almost certainly be brutalized by an armed GWPD.”

While faculty members might be expected to advance more reasoned arguments and actual data or expertise to back up their objection to arming some 20 already-licensed supervisory police officers, the statements made by this tiny faculty group in their letter appear equally strained and illogical, and the examples of actual shootings which they cite don’t back up their own claims, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf of GWU.

Unlike virtually all of the professors who signed onto the letter – including those teaching Writing, Arts & Design, Studio Art, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, etc. – Banzhaf has actual experience as a former security officer and security consultant. 

More directly relevant, he recently published a major study of school shootings around the world, and a number of his safety recommendations involving deranged shooters on campus have been adopted by GWU and by other schools.

The dissenting faculty member statement claims that arming a select minority of GWU’s supervisory police is “more likely to reduce safety rather than enhance it,” but, with all the school shootings which have occurred over at least the past 20 years, they fail to cite a single situation where an armed campus police officer shot a student or faulty member on campus.

One situation they did cite involved a traffic stop which occurred outside the campus, but reviews by the FBI and the Civil Rights Division did not find the shooting wrongful, and the officer (not the person shot) received a $350,000 legal settlement from the University of Cincinnati.

The second also involved an off-campus shooting by a Portland State University cop of an drunken person carrying a gun during a bar fight, and a grand jury ruled the shooting justified. Coincidentally, the university just reinstated its policy of arming its officers.

One of the letter’s signatories (a GWU director of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives) writing separately, asks (presumably rhetorically): “Where on campus and in D.C. are the academic centers, like those at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities, that dedicate themselves to researching the causes of and solutions to gun violence.”

Arming The Campus Police

Prof. Banzhaf’s answer is simple: Although – and perhaps even because – Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities do research solutions to gun violence, they have both reached the same studied conclusion that one way is to arm some of their own police, just as GWU is doing.

As a helpful suggestion, this tiny faculty minority wrote in their letter that “If we seek to broaden the imagination on public safety, have we trained the GWU community as a whole in how to illuminate the dignity of all people (especially in conflict situations).

How to practice deep empathy, how to use nonviolent communication, how to de-escalate through active bystander intervention skills and nonviolent self-defense training” – exactly the suggestions one might expect from those teaching liberal arts and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion [DEI] initiatives.

But Banzhaf points out that deranged-shooter-on-campus situations have been resolved by the use of deadly force – either to neutralize the shooter or to pressure him to shoot himself – and not by deep empathy, dignity enhancement, intervention skills, or nonviolent communication.

Moreover, many recent on-campus mass murders have demonstrated that a lone gunman, armed with a readily available weapon such as an AR-15, can kill or maim many students long before first responders from outside can arrive, even if they may be close by.

Thus there is a pressing need to have persons on campus with guns who can neutralize – or at least pin down – a gunman very quickly to halt the shooting and needless deaths.

The minority faculty letter also objects that the Trustees did not adequately consult with the Faculty Senate [FS] before deciding to follow the lead of many other universities – including at least 10 of GWU’s 12 peer universities – to have armed police. But there are at least two important and valid reasons for not doing so, argues Banzhaf.

First, the Trustees did “review [] safety data and best practices, and input from experts” in making their decision. 

While the FS may provide – and was instituted to provide – useful information and input on many pedagogical issues such as course selection, hiring practices, testing and grading, and perhaps faculty salaries, etc., its members do not appear to have much if any expertise regarding the advantages and disadvantages of arming a few campus police, or otherwise preparing for a possible active shooter on campus.

Indeed, says Banzhaf, faculty members’ apparent emphasis on using deep empathy and nonviolent communication, and calling negotiators, mediators, and mental health professionals when there’s a man mowing down students with an AR-15, suggests that their involvement would not lead to more realistic solutions; instead it is more likely to bog down the process and distract from practical approaches than to lead to decision making which is better informed.

Dealing With Major Campus Safety Issues

The second reason is that the FS refused to become involved in dealing with other major campus safety issues. For example:

  • When Prof Banzhaf, GWU’s student government, and others stressed the need to have classrooms doors capable of being locked from inside, the FS refused even to become involved. Eventually, but only after considerable delay, and without any apparent input from the FS, GWU finally agreed and fully implemented this suggestion.
  • When a GWU employee suffered a violent sexual attack in a GWU garage, Banzhaf suggested not having completely unprotected access from the street to this multi-storied garage, especially once it became more widely known that drug addicts and other vagrants used these unlocked doors frequently to gain entrance. Although the primary users of GWU’s parking garages are faculty who would be especially vulnerable to such attacks, especially if they teach night classes or work late or over weekends, the FS likewise refused to become involved, but GWU nevertheless eventually implemented Prof. Banzhaf’s suggestions.
  • When masked students and others marched through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville carrying burning torches and other weapons, Prof Banzhaf suggested that GWU prohibit such behaviors in its published rules related to student protests. GWU initially resisted, and the FS again did not use its expertise and/or influence to support this common sense and cost free safety proposal, which nevertheless was eventually adopted more than a year later.
  • When a faculty member at another major university was shot in his office by a disgruntled visitor, Banzhaf suggested that faculty offices should offer no less protection than that provided to guests at even the cheapest motels – a peephole in the door to see who is knocking, whether a weapon appears to be present, etc. Although this elementary and very inexpensive safety measure would protect faculty, the FS played no role in having it eventually implemented.

There are also many other measures – which are much less expensive and much less controversial than arming selected licensed supervisory campus police officers – which the FS has been asked to support (or at least discuss) at GWU, but it has likewise refused to become involved one way or the other.

So why should the GWU administration – once it has reviewed safety data and best practices with its own safety personnel, consulted with experts, and decided to simply follow a growing trend which represents the emerging consensus of many other universities which have likewise studied the same problem – stop and delay implementation to consult with a body with no apparent expertise, and a demonstrated unwillingness to become involved in safety issues, asks the activist law professor.

It appears that this letter from a tiny portion of the faculty will have no more impact on the Trustees’ decision than the recent march and delusional claims (that only rich white suburbanites will be safe) by a tiny portion of the student body.

If GWU – which, because it is located in the middle of a city where so many people come to protest, sometimes violently – is visited by a crazed shooter, the overwhelming majority of both students and faculty will be very glad that there are trained officers on campus with handguns to confront him very promptly before more innocent victims are shot, bleed to death from AR-15-type weapons, etc, argues Banzhaf.