Monday, Aug. 19, 2013
For VCU Police Chief John Venuti, perception is reality. If a person feels unsafe on campus, it can be difficult to win them over with the facts and figures that show the VCU campuses are safe places. That is why it is remarkable that, according to the department’s most recent “perception of safety survey,” 94.6 percent of students, faculty and staff at VCU feel either “safe” or “very safe” on its campuses. It’s a number Venuti and his officers have worked hard to earn, and one he says they will work just as hard to keep.
“This is the third time that we’ve administered the survey where we’ve actually seen an increase in the amount of people saying they feel ‘safe’ or ‘very safe,’” Venuti said. “I think the reason we’re seeing the increase is that we’re focusing on what people are telling us we need to do to make them feel safer. It’s kind of our compass on deployment.”
Venuti, his officers, partner agencies and the university community have all contributed to making the VCU campuses inviting and safe places for students and faculty to live, learn and work, and an increasingly uncomfortable place for those looking to do harm or victimize members of the community. As a new academic year begins, the VCU Police Department is rolling out initiatives to ensure the safety and well-being of the university community and to stop crime before it occurs.
For the 2013-2014 academic year, the VCU Police Department has made numerous upgrades and adjustments to its personnel and deployments in order to maximize effectiveness. The university will also enlist the help of partner agencies, including the Richmond Police and Virginia State Police, to provide high visibility during the start of the school year. VCU’s partnership with G4S Security will continue this year, with three security vehicles patrolling during evening and nighttime hours on the Monroe Park campus, and one vehicle covering the MCV Campus during the same hours.
Growth and specialization
* Fifteen new officers are hitting the streets, trained to patrol in car, on bike or on foot.
* Patrol shifts have been realigned to allow for maximum manpower during periods when the majority of crimes occur and when people most want to see a visible police presence.
* The special operations and investigations units have been expanded to prevent and solve crimes, particularly robberies and drug crimes, on and around campus.
* Cpl. Tricia Mozingo has been designated the department’s first full-time victim/witness specialist, connecting victims or witnesses of crimes to available health, mental health and legal resources.
* Officer Greg Felton has returned to resume his work with off-campus relations including neighborhood associations, party complaints and landlord/tenant situations.
“The expansion of the force and the creation of different specialty positions really creates the infrastructure we need to sustain our all-out community policing philosophy,” Venuti said.
Significant upgrades to the existing video security systems on each campus will help deter crime and make it easier for police to identify people who commit crimes on campus. Upgraded in-car cameras in VCU Police cruisers will provide mobile surveillance of public areas in and around campus as well as a record of interactions between officers and the public. This new tool will provide a record of activities that can be reviewed during criminal investigations and further lower the number of complaints against officers, a number Venuti proudly points out has already been lowered by 40 percent in the last year.
The technology that has Venuti most excited is a new partnership with LiveSafe, creators of a user-friendly mobile app that allows for the easy exchange of high-quality information between members of the VCU community and the police department. It is a free, voluntary app that is available on iOS or Android devices.
“We can only address the problems and issues we’re aware of, and LiveSafe is yet another very easy and user friendly way for people to contact the police department,” Venuti said. “It also allows us to reach out and contact users with relevant information pertaining to crime prevention, their safety, as well as other things that are going on here at VCU.”
Inform, educate and involve
Education and communication are key to ensuring a safe campus and the VCU Police Department will continue to educate and engage with the community at every opportunity. The 2012-2013 academic year saw an unprecedented level of interaction and engagement between the VCU Police Department and the community it serves, and, according to Venuti, you can expect to see even more this year.
“We’re always looking for people to partner with,” said Venuti. “If there is one element that has contributed to any of the success that we’ve had it’s our outreach and really reaching out and being a part of this community, rather than just policing this community.”
The department has emphasized its online presence and social media channels and will continue to share important safety information and departmental activities through its active Facebook and Twitter accounts, which now reach nearly 5,000 members of the VCU community.
Incoming freshmen enrolled in University 101 will have a safety module called “360 Stay Safe ” included in their course this year. The program is designed especially for college students and focuses on situations they may encounter during their college career, such as theft and robbery prevention, securing possessions and finances, getting around safely after dark and dealing with relationships that become unhealthy.
Over the summer, VCU launched a comprehensive university-wide campaign to promote safety, wellness and preparedness throughout the community. “RamSmart,” a peer-to-peer education program, will give students the information they need to make good decisions and take an active role in their safety and success at VCU. The campaign was launched during freshmen orientations and will continue throughout the year.
The most reported crime on the VCU campus and many campuses across the country is theft, though reported larcenies were down 9 percent last year at VCU. The vast majority of thefts occur because valuable items were left unattended or were left in unlocked cars or residences. The good news about larceny is that it is 100 percent preventable.
“We can continue to gradually reduce the number of items stolen here as a police department with our enforcement techniques but the much easier way to have a much greater impact on that number is for every person in this community to understand they’re responsible for their belongings,” said Venuti.
As in previous years, VCU Police officers will be a constant presence on both campuses for the first few weeks of the year helping families and students move in and prepare for class and providing important safety information. They also will register bicycles and laptops— two items most commonly reported stolen — so that they can more easily recover these valuable items.
Bicycle Registration Dates and Locations
Aug. 19 Shafer Court/Hibbs Hall, from 10 a.m. to noon
Aug. 20 Shafer Court/Hibbs Hall, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Aug. 21 Larrick Student Center, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Aug. 22 Student Commons Plaza, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Larrick Student Center, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Aug. 23 Student Commons Plaza, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Computer Registration Dates and Locations
Aug. 19 Cabell Library, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Aug. 22 Larrick Student Center, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Sept. 3 Rhoads/Brandt Lobby, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sept. 4 Johnson Hall Lobby, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sept. 5 Gladding Residence Center Lobby, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sept. 6 Larrick Student Center Lobby, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
VCU Police is a capable, professional police force with 90 sworn officers and a 24-hour on-campus dispatch center working around the clock to keep the VCU community safe. Students, faculty and staff can call 828-1234 if they ever see someone or something suspicious, or they can pick up one of the hundreds of emergency phones located around campus. The department’s nonemergency number is 828-1139.
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