Since the consolidation of positions within the department and the hiring of Jay Gruber as chief of police in July 2012, the Georgetown University Police Department — known colloquially as the Department of Public Safety — has changed in students’ eyes from mainly a “party crasher” to a valuable source of support for student safety.
In the year and a half since these changes took effect, GUPD has increased its presence on campus and in the Georgetown neighborhood while at the same time a notable drop in on-campus alcohol violations has been seen.
Under Gruber’s leadership, DPS changed its name to GUPD in spring 2013, symbolizing its increased emphasis on its role as a police force.
“DPS encompasses several meanings including values related to management and environmental safety,” Gruber said. “We wanted to focus on our core mission as community police officers in providing safety and security as a police department.”
Since Gruber’s tenure as chief began, the department has seen a marked reduction in non-arrest alcohol violations, from 444 violations recorded in 2010 under the leadership of former Chief of Police Rocco DelMonaco to 211 violations in 2012.
The decrease in alcohol violations is part of the university’s recent efforts to curb off-campus social life through the elimination of the single keg limit for on-campus parties and the institution of a policy allowing of-age students to consume alcohol in the outdoor areas of Village A and Henle Village.
As alcohol violations decrease, burglary rates have been on the rise, with burglary reports increasing from only 20 reports in 2007 to 27 reports in 2009 and 55 reports in 2012. According to Gruber, however, reports have recently declined, which he attributes to GUPD’s efforts to inform students and parents about the importance of locking doors.
“I know that recently our burglary numbers have gone down quite a bit because of the multifaceted approach that we’ve taken to reduce the number of burglaries,” he said.
Gruber feels that GUPD’s perception among Georgetown students has changed for the better.
When Gruber was hired, the department eliminated the position of Vice President for Safety, which had overseen public safety, environmental health and safety and emergency management, in favor of more direct relationships between the department and university leadership.
“I think that was to reduce a layer of accountability, reduce a layer of communication, I think the university thought there was too many layers between the key players and university leadership,” Gruber said. “I’m very comfortable with the way it is now. I like having direct rapport among the university’s leadership.”
Environmental health and safety and emergency management were placed under the authority of Chief Operating Officer Chris Augostini, and Gruber’s position was placed directly under Vice President for Public Affairs Erik Smulson.
“[Gruber] has been responsive and engaged with students through the Student Safety Advisory Board and regular meetings with GUSA leadership. He has done an outstanding job balancing the concerns of students and our neighbors as the co-chair of the Georgetown Community Partnership Committee on Safety and Student Life,” Smulson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“We’ve had very little negative interaction with students and student leadership. There was a perception that we are ‘party breakers’ in the past, but I think the perception has changed in the past 18 months,” Gruber said.
Gruber also identified neighborhood relations as an area he sought to improve.
“We’ve established a far better relationship with the neighbors over the past year as there’s been improved and more coherent communication to us from them. They use the university help line to get information across officers and neighbors very quickly, which prompts a much faster response. I think this helped a lot,” Gruber said.
ANC Neighborhood Commissioner Craig Cassey (COL ’15) testified to the progressive relationship between the Georgetown neighborhood and GUPD.
“Regarding how DPS is viewed by the community, most neighbors recognize them for what they are — extra feet on the ground ensuring students and other community members are safe. The work DPS does benefits all, and the community at large seems to appreciate that,” Cassey wrote in an email.
Irene Kim (SFS ’14) remembered disliking DPS as a freshman, but said that as an off-campus resident she has cultivated an appreciation for their work.
“I think the student-DPS relationship has become one of mutual tolerance over the past four years. As an underage freshman, I used to resent them for crashing parties, but I admit it’s reassuring to have them watching over us now that I’m living off-campus,” Kim said.
Gruber credited improved community and student engagement to initiatives such as bi-semester student roundtables in partnership with GUSA. The police chief has already participated in two forums during the 2013-14 school year and is expected to take part in the third installation of the forum, to be held March 5 in Sellinger Lounge.
“Some of the changes that have come after I’ve been here, I’m just working to better community relationships, community partnerships… there’s crime, but make the university feel like a more inviting place for students to live and students to learn. I want students to be on campus and feel comfortable,” Gruber said.
According to GUSA Undersecretary of Student Safety and Health Guillaume Cossard (COL ’14), Gruber’s participation in on-campus activities, such as the dunk tank on Georgetown Day 2013 and the creation of a dorm-liaison program to partner GUPD officers with designated dorms, speak to Gruber’s perception as an interactive chief.
“Gruber’s very, very receptive of student voice and student reporting, and he’s absolutely working for us, in my opinion, more so than the administration. He values really highly what the students have to say, and he’s trying to be less of an enforcer,” Cossard said.
Michael Ng (COL ’15) said that he has noticed an improvement in GUPD interactions with students recently.
“Their Code of Conduct and the way they approach students has improved. When I was a freshman, they didn’t seem to conduct themselves as professionally as I hoped they did. They lost their patience a lot, but now that’s changed,” Ng said.
Not every student, however, has seen Gruber’s influence across all levels of the department. Micaela Deitch (COL ’15) recounted an uncomfortable experience she had with a GUPD officer recently.
“A DPS officer was giving me a ride once, and there were a lot of students out in the street drinking, and he was making a lot of disparaging remarks, and I think he like called one a moron, and even though he wasn’t mean towards me, he was very – I didn’t like his attitude towards students,” Deitch said.