George Washington University Police Build Community

By creating opportunities for students to interact with him and GWPD officers in relaxed settings, Chief Tate is working to build a stronger GW community.

November 21, 2022

GWPD Chief Tate

Chief Tate engages a student during an event at the Mount Vernon Campus. (Kate Woods/GW Today)

By Greg Varner

Since taking command at the George Washington University Police Department in January 2020, Chief James Tate has decorated his department’s headquarters in Phillips Hall with large photos of the GW campus. He likes to point them out to new officers and tell them, “This is our community.”

Community is a byword for Tate. Recognizing that students who feel a connection to him and the department’s officers are more likely to think of contacting the GW Police for help if they need it, Tate has called for more frequent police engagement with students in a non-enforcement context. As part of his effort to build community, he has instituted a series of events such as Coffee with the Chief, encouraging students to sign up for meetings with him on the third Thursday of each month, and Raise High with GWPD, miniature festivals with food, fun and music.

“I want GW Police to have greater involvement in the community,” Tate said, “meaning that we seek out and find opportunities to connect our officers with the community that we serve. It’s simply them getting to know us, and us getting to know them.”

Last Thursday afternoon, Tate met with students at GWPD headquarters for the latest Coffee with the Chief and then went to a Raise High with GWPD event that evening on the Mount Vernon Campus. He has made an effort to meet with student leaders, who occasionally text him to ask for a meeting or for advice. He welcomes such unexpected contact.

“This is the kind of access I think students should have to their police chief,” he said. “It’s refreshing to know that students feel like they can come talk to me.”

The Thursday coffee events have been advertised in Tate’s departmental newsletter, emailed to students monthly. At a previous coffee event, a student signed up to meet with Tate to ask for his advice about how she could achieve her career goal of becoming a police chief. She is one of several GW students who have told Tate they want to pursue careers in the criminal justice field. He described his own path to the job and advised the aspiring chief to keep her record clean and avoid making the common mistake of posting things on social media that could hurt job chances.

The GWPD’s outreach programs will continue. The chief is planning a pop-up during final exam period, with officers handing out snacks and drinks to students who want them.

“When most people encounter a police officer, it may be under challenging circumstances,” Tate said, “and we want to make sure that an officer’s interaction is positive.”

Tate with students

Chief Tate talked with students during a Coffee with the Chief session. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Last Thursday, three students working on a class project—Jacy Heidorn, Pauline Mnev and Yankun Zhao—scheduled time with the chief during his coffee event. All seniors, they are enrolled in the Geographic Information Systems for Emergency Management course taught by Adam Jachimowicz, adjunct professor of geography in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our task was to map interiors of buildings on the Foggy Bottom campus to assist emergency responders in any situation,” Mnev told the chief. The students believe their floor plans could be used to assist emergency responders with a digital floor plan showing the location of important equipment and other building features such as smoke detectors, electrical rooms and elevators. They wanted to hear from the chief what other features it’s important for emergency responders to know about.

“I think we all have a responsibility to try to take care of each other,” Tate said. “I want people to be comfortable enough to call us for something that the police department can help with. If there are things that we can help with, then that’s what we’ll do.”