After an academic year that saw a gunshot in McDonough Gymnasium, a string of bias-related assaults against members of the LGBTQ community, a number of burglaries in university-owned student residences and multiple sexual assaults, many Georgetown students are increasingly concerned about their safety and the measures the university is taking to ensure it.
“Maybe crimes are just reported more, but I really think that our campus has gotten less safe, and it seems like more people are able to assault and pinpoint Georgetown students than ever before,” Kirsten Hardy (SFS ’11) said.
While the total number of crimes has not increased from past years, the nature of many of the crimes this year has shaken the community’s sense of security. Department of Public Safety Associate Director Joseph Smith said that there has been an increase in crimes against persons, but also a downturn in property crime, particularly bike thefts.
DPS crime logs for the month of March 2010 include 35 incidents ranging from burglary to sexual assault to theft to drug violations to public indecency. In contrast, the crime log of March 2009 reported a total of 51 incidents; many of these were property damage, such as graffiti or defacement with paint. Comparisons between the crime logs for January and February of the two academic years show similar trends.
Major incidents this academic year included the firing of a gun belonging to off-duty Park Police officer Sherice Clanton during the Midnight Madness rally in October, which led to the arrest of then-McDonough School of Business freshman Alex Thiele. Thiele was later sentenced to 18 months probation and a $100 fine, and is presently in the custody of his parents in California. (See page 11.) In the same month, an employee of the Leavey Center Cosi restaurant was tied to a chair and robbed at knife-point, leading to the theft of nearly $2,000.
Two bias-related assaults against students seen as members of the LGBTQ community occurred near campus in the same week in late October and early November, followed closely by a report of verbal harassment just off campus and the discovery of anti-gay graffiti in Copley Hall. (See page 3.)
Burglaries and robberies have also marred the crime logs of this academic year. The rooms of seven students in McCarthy Hall were burglarized on Halloween, and five juveniles were apprehended and barred from campus for a similar set of burglaries in the building on Nov. 15. On Nov. 30 an employee of Yates Field House was assaulted and robbed. In early December a student was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint in Glover Park. In January, a burglary in Village C West and a robbery on O Street were reported on the same night. At least four burglaries or attempted burglaries took place within two blocks of Healy Gates within a nine-day period in March. Two robberies in the same block in Burleith, one at gunpoint, occurred nine days apart in late March and early April. Most recently, two students were sexually assaulted in a seven-day period, one in a stairwell in Copley Hall.
On the other hand, reports of sexual assaults significantly declined from the previous academic year. Arlington, Va., resident Todd Thomas was sentenced to prison in March for a series of burglaries and sexual assaults, but it is unlikely that all of the crimes colloquially attributed to the “Georgetown Cuddler” were committed by him, based on DPS records.
Over the course of the year, DPS has instated a number of new measures to improve campus safety, according to Smith. These include implementing the Rape Aggression Defense program, assigning a hate crimes and LGBTQ-related crimes officer, creating a team to monitor DPS response to sexual assaults and domestic and dating violence for quality assurance purposes, hiring contract security to supplement DPS coverage during emergency conditions, hiring a new crime prevention coordinator and a supervisory investigator, and enhancing student guard training.
DPS officers also received a $2.50 per hour pay raise under a new three-year contract approved in February, after negotiations that began the previous August. Student rallies had taken place during the fall semester in support of better compensation for officers.
Many students, however, are still unsatisfied with DPS.
Hardy cites a recent incident in which she was studying in Lauinger Library on a Thursday night and allowed a friend to exit and re-enter using her GOCard. A DPS officer arrived on the scene and confiscated both students’ GOCards overnight after filing a report.
“I am utterly appalled that this is the way DPS officers are choosing to use their authority, while I have literally felt unsafe walking from Lauinger to LXR at night recently because of the crime going on,” Hardy said.
The student guard program has also drawn criticism.
“Many friends have told me that they have walked into Copley without being swiped in properly or at all, which is especially disturbing because of the sexual assault that recently took place in the building,” Marc Sella (MSB ’12) said.
About 150 student guards are presently employed to control access to New South, LXR, Darnall, Copley, Harbin, Village C, Reiss, Lauinger, McCarthy, Kennedy, Reynolds and Walsh, according to the DPS Web site.
The Student Guard Office declined to comment for this report.
The swiping system in Copley Hall was changed as of Feb. 1, 2010, in a pilot program to enhance residence hall safety. Student guards must now take entering students’ GOCards and verify them, rather than letting students swipe their own cards, as they do in other residence halls. DPS planned to expand this program to other dorms if it proved to be effective.
“We feel that this may be a more effective method of preventing unauthorized access to the hall,” Smith said at the time.
Despite the new security measures, a student was sexually assaulted in the stairwell of Copley on April 9, the first sexual assault reported to have occurred in an on-campus residence since September, according to DPS crime logs.
DPS hopes to instate a number of additional new safety measures in the future. These include the expansion of the RAD program to include training for men and children, improving the Adopt-A-Cop program, in which officers are assigned to individual residence halls and serve as the main point of contact for the students and Residence Life staff in that building, and installing a new communications and report management system, according to Smith. DPS is also in the project development stage of making their Web site more interactive and easier for students to use, including services such as bike registration, anonymous tips and RAD registration in one location. Smith hopes to have this process completed by fall 2010.
“Maintaining public safety in the open environment of the university presents many challenges to the university administration and the law enforcement professionals at DPS. Although we are making excellent use of our resources, we continually examine our processes, work quality and outcomes in an ongoing effort to improve our service to the Georgetown community,” Smith said.