A participant holding a Defund Police sign at protest.
By Alexa Schwerha
- George Washington University (GWU) and Portland State University (PSU) revised their policing policies to allow officers to carry firearms while on patrol, sources told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- The policy changes come as multiple universities across the country revise their policing standards after activists demanded reforms to restrict departments after George Floyd’s death in 2020.
- “When criminals and other ne’er-do-wells see armed officers on campus or near campus they’re going to think twice, and they do think twice, about committing crimes on campuses,” Cully Stimson, Edwin Meese III Center deputy director at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.
Two urban universities are arming their on-campus police officers in an effort to crack down on increased crime three years after activists called for departments across the country to be defunded.
George Washington University (GWU), located in Washington D.C., announced it will allow some officers to carry firearms while on duty after typically relying on other armed police departments, while Portland State University (PSU), located in Oregon, reversed a 2021 policy that restricted officer’s ability to arm themselves. The decisions come three years after activists across the country took to the streets in 2020 demanding policing reform, including calls to defund departments. Experts say the use of armed officers will better prepare officers to deal with emergency situations when they occur. (RELATED: West Virginia Passes Bill That Allows Concealed Carry On Campus)
“Parents are sending their pride and joy to these schools and they’re horrified when these students, especially in the large inner-cities, are being raped and robbed and terrorized by criminals that the cities aren’t taking care of,” Cully Stimson, Edwin Meese III Center deputy director at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF. “When criminals and other ne’er-do-wells see armed officers on campus or near campus they’re going to think twice, and they do think twice, about committing crimes on campuses.”
GWU announced on April 13 that it would develop a plan to permit “specially trained GWPD supervisory officers” to carry a firearm on duty. The decision was made after several shootings occurred on campuses across the country in “the past several months,” including at Michigan State University and a Nashville elementary school, according to the press release.
“GW is taking a step in the right direction by investing in student and campus safety through its decision to arm GWPD officers this coming fall semester,” Ezra Meyer, a recent graduate of GWU who just finished his tenure as GW College Republicans chairman, told the DCNF. “I generally have felt safe on campus, but we do receive notifications of armed robberies and carjackings on campus not too infrequently. Crime is certainly a persistent issue through the District and the GW campus is not immune to that.”
The number of violent crimes in the district has increased 16% from 2022 to 2023, according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s website. Property crime increased 31%, while the total number of crimes increased 28%.
PSU adopted a policy in 2021 that restricted officer’s ability to carry a firearm while on patrol unless the situation warranted one, Christina Williams, PSU strategic communications director told the DCNF. She explained that the policy was reversed because of “a rise in weapons on campus since that time.”
“Portland State administration, its Campus Public Safety Office, and the University Public Safety Oversight Committee will continue to work with the campus community to develop public safety policies that meet the needs of students and employees and create a safe and welcoming campus for living and learning,” Williams said.
Several other schools across the country are revising their policing standards.
Johns Hopkins announced in 2020 that it would pause development of a new police department for a minimum of two years to re-evaluate policing in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It finalized a memorandum of understanding with the Baltimore Police Department in December 2022 that marked the “step in the process of creating a small, model university police department to bolster safety on and around JHU’s campuses,” according to its press release. The officers on campus will be armed, according to its website.
The University of Minnesota (UMN) announced in 2020 that it would no longer work with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) for university events after Floyd’s death, and the Twin Cities campus announced in 2022 that it would “begin an evaluative, phased approach to reinstating work with the MPD for large events and specialized services.”
“The day-to-day relationship between the University/UMPD and MPD never changed,” Jake Ricker, UMN university relations director of public relations, told the DCNF. “UMPD and MPD continued (and continue) to communicate about day-to-day public safety efforts and work together in the neighborhoods near our Twin Cities campus.”
The decisions at both GWU and PSU were met with pushback from students and faculty members who disagree with having armed officers on campus. At GWU, several student organizations participated in an “emergency action” protest alleging that the decision to arm officers “is an attack” on black and brown students, the poor and working class and D.C. residents “who will almost certainly be brutalized by an armed GWPD,” according to an Instagram flyer posted by Students Against Imperialism.
At PSU, a coalition of students, staff, faculty, community members and alumni called Disarm PSU Now demand the university disarm campus security and “create new investments to address historic racism and anti-Black violence at PSU,” according to its website. Hannah Alzgal, a senior and group organizer, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the student body was not included in the decision to reverse the 2021 policy and her “goal right now is to make sure that Portland State University is able to hear the student voice.”
“College students are clueless about public safety, for the most part,” Stimson told the DCNF. “They come from high school. They go to college with big thoughts and ideas about what justice is and what the world should be like, and like all of us who grew up during then after college, the last thing they’re focused on really is their own personal safety. Yes, they’re concerned about safety by drinking, and drugs and sexual assault, but they’re not really thinking about whether they’re going to get mugged, or robbed at gunpoint or their cars are broken into, for the most part.”
Meyer, too, disputed the claims of his classmates and told the DCNF that the many officers who carry on GWU’s campus “have carried firearms with other departments.”
“They will also be undergoing substantial subsequent training with the weapons and with de-escalation tactics, among other trainings,” he said. “This is an appropriate and necessary decision by the university which will act as a deterrent to those who wish to do harm to the campus community, and will equip our university police with the ability to quickly neutralize any potential situation before it becomes catastrophic.”
George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, Students Against Imperialism and Disarm PSU did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.