In his own words: A Q&A with John Venuti, Chief of VCU Police

Tommy Lopez
Multimedia Editor

Ryan Murphy
News Editor

Last semester, The CT reported on a number of crimes and VCU Police’s responses. Notably, last semester saw a dramatic spike in robberies on or near campus — 32 in total during the fall semester, more than five times the number of robberies during the spring 2012 semester. The CT sat down with VCU Police Chief John Venuti to discuss last semester’s crime, how the VCU Police Department responded and their plans for this coming semester. 

On Last Semester’s Robberies:

“Here’s the important thing that I look at and that people need to understand: if you want to see what’s going to happen in VCU, you look at the Richmond metropolitan area in general. And I think over the past semester, when you look at the Richmond metropolitan area in general, there was an increase in robberies clear across the city, in Henrico, Chesterfield County, so what we see here in VCU is very, very reflective of what’s going on in the areas that are around us … but with all of those robberies, looking back at the numbers, the number of arrests pertaining to those robberies has dramatically increased over last year. The way to stop people from robbing people is you arrest the people who are robbing people.”

On what VCU PD is doing to bolster the perception of safety:

“Visibility in an environment like this is really, really important, so we alter our deployment strategy so that people here see a lot more police officers, vehicles and things like that … (After administering the Perception of Safety survey) 93.9 percent of the students, faculty and staff that were surveyed said they felt either safe or very safe on both campuses … But we did more than administer that survey. We looked at places where people said they wanted to see more police officers and we deployed our strategy so we had our officers in those places … We’re in the process of improving lighting in places that people told us needed more lighting. We’re adding more emergency phones in areas people told us needed more emergency phones.”

On VCU Police presence:

“Traditionally, if you look at campus law enforcement staffing levels across the United States, what you generally see is approximately between 1.8 and three officers per thousand students. When you look at our addition of (ten officers to) 82 to 92, that puts the VCU Police Department at approximately 3.4 officers per 1000 students, so obviously we’re a little bit more than the max, and I think that’s appropriate in this environment because VCU is in a complex environment and the level of policing in an urban environment is complicated. Most campus law enforcement agencies stick to events that occur in their property, and we aren’t that police agency. We obviously focus a lot of patrol and law enforcement efforts in the core campus area, (but) we also span out to our extended concurrent jurisdiction with Richmond … I don’t want VCU to be a police state where every block you walk you see police officers.

On the VCU alert system:

“The philosophy is I want students here to be fully aware of everything that’s going on … because in an environment this large, with 50,000 people, we need everyone to take the appropriate steps and measures to safeguard their own safety. … We want everyone to be making good decisions, and the purpose of those alerts, (is) as simple as if there’s something you do each day at a particular point in time and you know that a crime occurred in that particular location, you may say ‘Oh, I’m not going to jog down that street today, I’ll go down Monument Avenue versus Grove Avenue.’ The level of awareness here has dramatically increased.”

On G4S:

“That was a pretty bold and aggressive step for VCU to take because a lot of Virginia institutions and, historically, VCU (have) never used outside security to supplement their police staff. But again, I looked at G4S and some of the student feedback was I just wanted (G4S) to find all the parties and just so everyone knows, I don’t need any help doing that. I can do that with my eyes closed, but that’s not why we did G4S. We did G4S because I would see students in the core parts of this campus late at night walking from point A to point B and it would just concern me that they’re walking alone, late at night, and if we could put something into the environment to make them feel a little better, even if they saw it a couple of blocks away …  We have looked and overlayed all the robbery crimes we had with G4S (patrol routes) and the closest robbery was about six blocks away … We put them in specific areas … and again, we had no robberies in the areas they were assigned.”

On the new RamSafe escort service:

“Obviously the old escort service was a very inefficient, ineffective system and I had been working with students for the past almost two years looking for some type of adequate solution to make transportation of students with a point-to-point service much more enjoyable, reliable, effective and efficient and we listened to all the feedback from the students and the current system incorporates a lot of things students wanted. For example, students, predominantly females, would tell us, ‘When I call the security escort system, I have to wait outside on a dark street.’ With the new system you can call from (inside a building) and you are notified when the service is in the vicinity.”

On making strides to improve working with Richmond Police:

“We’re in the process with our technology upgrades of updating our computer-aided dispatch system to the same system that Richmond uses. So right now, if you sit in a VCU Police car and you sit in a Richmond Police car, you see two sets of different information. Feb. 1 we’re merging to Richmond’s system … Obviously from a perspective of interoperability it’s going to be a big advantage for us and we’re also in the process of moving to Richmond’s record management system as well. Right now, VCU has a separate records management system so if you’re arrested in the VCU system or you’re arrested in the RPD system, it’s all going to be one system.”

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