On Tuesday morning at approximately 2:45 a.m., a rape was reported to the Richmond Police just outside of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. The incident was reported on the VCU Police alerts webpage, but no warning emails or text messages were sent to students.
A woman, who officials have confirmed is not a student, was reportedly abducted from the Rite-Aid parking lot across the street from VCU’s Broad and Belvidere dorms, driven into the Jackson Ward neighborhood and reported she was raped. Later Tuesday morning, around 9:30 a.m., Richmond Police reclassified the event as suspicious activity pending further investigation.
The woman told police early Tuesday that while she was in the Rite-Aid parking lot, a man approached her and briefly spoke to her as she smoked a cigarette. According to reports, the man then grabbed her, forced into his car, took her to Jackson Ward, raped and then released her.
The crime is in the jurisdiction of the Richmond police, although it is VCU police who make the call on what information is relayed to students and how. The Rite-Aid parking lot, while adjacent to VCU’s core campus, is private property and not subject to the Clery Act, which governs the release of information on crimes reported “(1) on campus, (2) on public property within or immediately adjacent to the campus, and (3) in or on noncampus buildings or property that your institution owns or controls,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.
VCU Police Chief John Venuti said the events that are released via timely warning emails and text messages are those that pose an immediate risk to students.
Cleary [Act] crimes are committed within the core campus,” Venuti said. “I can’t say we’re always going to send a timely warning, if there’s ongoing risk present, more than likely we will, but it’s hard to say ‘Yes we will, yes we won’t’ without knowing the facts and circumstances.”
Venuti went on to describe how if students are ever in any danger, timely warnings will go out.
“Our responsibility is to distribute relevant, useful information to our population of over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, and that’s hard to do in five minutes … [a timely warning] is not an instant notification of a crime … the whole purpose of a timely warning is to let someone know that a particular incident happened so that they can … take the appropriate steps and measures to do whatever they need to ensure their safety,” he said.
Assistant Chief of Police, Chris Preuss, elaborated on the time versus information struggle when investigating crimes and relaying information to students.
“At 3, 4, 2 (in the morning) whenever these these things occur and the phone starts ringing, there’s a kind of a pushing and pulling of we’re trying to get as much information as we can to populate those Timely warnings or alert pages with as much stuff for everybody to kind of grasp what happened and educate themselves about the situation, but at the same time, we’ve got to worry about the timeliness. If we took more time to look into it, we’d have more information for you because we’d be able to investigate, but then we’d be sliding down the scale of not being timely,” Preuss said.
The proximity to VCU brings into the question what is on- versus off-campus in the community. According to the US News college-ranking database, 79 percent of VCU students live off-campus. Furthermore, the dorm across the street from where the abduction was reported, Broad and Belvidere, has a capacity of 410 students. Jackson Ward, another location in the reported crime, is a popular off-campus living option for students.
Venuti explained VCU police is responsible to the “core-campus,” the area most trafficked, lived in and in-use by students.
Core campus is defined as the region that the majority of VCU students travel and populate throughout the majority of their academic (and) residential activity at VCU,” he said.
Mike Porter of VCUNews, said the incident is a challenge for VCU Police on what gets reported to students. According to the Clery Act, which requires universities to report campus crimes to students when they occur, crimes on or near campus must be reported to students, however only the on-campus crimes are required to be sent to students via the crime alert.
“There are times where we are obligated by law to report campus crime. There are also times where we chose to report off-campus crimes to students,” said Porter.