GW Police Chief Focuses on Community Outreach in Second Year

Chief RaShall Brackney is working to build a bridge between officers and the campus they serve.

GW bike officers
Bicycle officers are more approachable and accessible, Chief Brackney said.
September 01, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

As news reports focus on safety on college campuses and law enforcement tactics, George Washington University Police Chief RaShall Brackney is trying to position officers to be successful in connecting with the GW community.

Since coming to GW in June 2015 from Pittsburgh, she has launched several initiatives within the department aimed at increasing visibility and reducing the barriers that often separate officers and the communities they serve. With programs like Coffee with a Cop, a digital safety campaign and increasing use of bicycles, Chief Brackney said the department is ahead of the curve when it comes to relating to the community.

“We’re really trying to change how our officers think about themselves within the community and also how they interact with the students,” she said. “We have shifted from a stationary model of policing to an engagement model that allows the community to interact with the officers in a more meaningful way.”

Chief Brackney has worked to expand GW’s bicycle unit and aims to have every new hire to the more than 125 officer force trained in urban bicycling. Officers must go through a one-week certification program with more than 40 hours of riding before they can start cycling around campus.

Bicycle officers are more approachable and more accessible to students who might not otherwise interact with a campus officer on patrol, Chief Brackney said. Using bicycles also reduces fuel costs for the university.

“It’s become so popular that other local universities have asked us to lead the training in it,” she said.

To aid officers in interactions with students, staff and faculty, the department is also training them in softer skills like leadership, identifying their strengths and communication. This is a supplement to traditional police skills like use of force protocols and arrest procedure taught in the police academy, Chief Brackney said.

To reach students across campuses this fall the police department is rolling out a series of digital videos featuring student actors with messages about GW’s smoke-free policy, pedestrian safety and reducing thefts in the residence halls. The department recently released an eight-minute video about how to respond to an active shooter scenario on campus.

Recognizing the speed of information flow and accessibility provided by platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the department is also working to increase its online presence.

“People have been able to follow us very differently than we’ve been able to be followed before,” Chief Brackney said.

Officers have also been meeting students where they live and work. During exams officers have been stationed in the library and academic buildings to give out coffee and pastries to students as a way to fuel and encourage them.

“It also gives us a chance to interact differently, suggesting that we are sympathetic to the stresses they are under, that we really do support their education endeavors here,” Chief Brackney said.

With students returning to campus Chief Brackney offered tips and advice to stay safe this fall on campus and in greater Washington, D.C.

  • If you are traveling to a different part of the city, plan your route ahead of time and research the best ways of keeping your valuables safe on Metro.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you see something unusual or out of place, report it.
  • Don’t let people follow you into the residence halls. If you wouldn’t hold open the door behind you to let a stranger into your home, don’t do it in the residence halls.
  • Use the buddy system and share your location with friend and family when exploring the city.
  • Don’t use your phone while you walk. Pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Be mindful of where your credit and debit cards are to avoid identity theft.

The department also offers free self defense classes, open to all members of the GW community, and physical security assessments for academic buildings and residence halls. These free assessments are individualized examinations of a student, faculty or staff member’s working or campus living space aimed at identifying vulnerabilities and training personnel how to respond during a security threat.

Chief Brackney said the department has done more than 40 assessments over the last six months, and is very committed to continuing them. Assessments can be scheduled by contacting the department’s senior director of physical security Mary Paradis.