The Georgetown University Student Association met with student government leaders from other Washington, D.C. universities Thursday to discuss a proposed bill that would allow for expanded jurisdiction for private security officers, including campus police.
The bill, which was introduced by D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) Dec. 16, includes new regulations for special police officers, which include campus security, housing project staff and hospital officers. Under the bill, the Georgetown University Police Department would have the ability to enforce the code of conduct outside of its current jurisdiction, which includes buildings that the university owns, operates or leases.
“A campus or university special police officer … may exercise his or her authority as an officer outside the property or area he or she is appointed to protect,” the bill reads. “[This is] pursuant to a public safety plan submitted to, and approved by, the Chief of Police.”
The bill was introduced in response to the death of Alonzo Smith, a D.C. resident who died while in the custody of private security guards, with the aim of increasing training requirements for special police.
The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), David Grosso (I-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman).
Student association presidents from George Washington University, American University, Howard University and Catholic University attended the consortium and expressed opposition to the bill.
GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ’16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16) said that GUSA does not support the bill’s clause expanding GUPD’s jurisdiction.
“GUSA is universally opposed to this bill,” Rohan said. “We have serious concerns about the extent to which police can be trained to control off-campus areas, concerns about civil liberties.”
Rohan also disapproved of giving the university’s neighbors the power to contact GUPD directly. Currently, neighbors must report problems concerning Georgetown students living off-campus to the Office of Neighborhood Life.
GUPD Chief Jay Gruber said that GUPD is in favor of the bill and clarified that GUPD does not plan on using some of the powers granted to it under the bill, including the ability to actively monitor off-campus areas.
“We’re in favor of the bill, but our focus is narrower than the wording of the bill,” Gruber said. “All we’re interested in is responding to student conduct and administrative violations in the designated area off-campus.”
If the bill is implemented, Gruber said that GUPD would only respond, as it does now, to off-campus situations if the Office of Neighborhood Life is unable to send one of its own members to investigate a neighbor’s complaint.
“We wouldn’t do anything that’s proactive. … It’s a very narrow area where we would be doing these things,” Gruber said. “We wouldn’t be patrolling in the neighborhoods looking for loud parties. We would wait for somebody to make their complaint.”
Rohan emphasized distinctions between Metropolitan Police Department and GUPD responses to conduct violations as another factor behind GUSA’s opposition to the bill.
“The actions that MPD takes are going to be different than the actions that GUPD takes,” Rohan said. “When GUPD enters the area … the potential for code of conduct violations to be pursued by GUPD and forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct is much greater, even if what a student is doing may not be illegal under D.C. law.”
Gruber said that he understood concerns over GUPD being able to enforce the code of conduct in areas off-campus, but also expressed the view that GUPD may better respond to student conduct violations than MPD.
“I understand the students’ apprehension of thinking that another group of people will enforce [the code of conduct],” Gruber said. “[But] I think it’s better handled internally by my department than someone calling MPD.”
The bill has been referred to the Council’s judiciary committee and requires a signature from Mayor Muriel Bowser as well as a 30-day congressional review before it can take effect.