VCU Police, administration hold safety-related town hall meeting

VCU administration, VCUPD, and others took a timeout to talk to students and Richmonders about the recent crime on and around campus. Here’s a rundown of VCU’s university safety town hall meeting last week.

Update #3 — OCtober 18th, 8:15 AM

By Scotti Cutlip

Last Thursday, VCU Police and the VCU Division of Student Affairs hosted a university safety town hall meeting. Students, alumni, and even parents barely filled the 400-seat auditorium in Harris Hall. VCU students, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers were notified the day before, on October 10th.

After a brief introduction, attendees were able to ask questions. VCU Police Chief John Venuti, who has been in the spotlight after the abundance of recent crime alerts, answered the majority.

Apart from a few unrelated issues (drug-trafficking, Richmond prisons, poverty, the need for VCU dress codes, and raising adjunct faculties’ pay), there were multiple concerns in the following areas having to do with campus safety issues:

VCU Security Escort Service improvements. Students wait an average of 40 minutes for the driver, usually in dark alleys and streets. From a safety survey taken last year, this service rated incredibly low. Venuti assured the attendees that they are reforming the program. Among proposed changes are notifications when the driver is nearby and GPS tracking so students can locate the shuttles on smart phones.

G4S private security patrols. Also due to the safety survey, and thanks to a surplus in the budget, the $35,000 security patrols program adds on-campus protection. Officers are unarmed, unable to make arrests, and placed in populated areas. According to the VCUPD website, patrols provide a “high-visibility security presence” from 9:00 PM to 2:00 or 3:00 AM depending on the day of the week.

“Not credible” bomb threat from last month. A student questioned the situation, saying he’d rather be safe than sorry. Venuti then said they were still on the case, but no further details could be given.

Vague criminal descriptions. Except for the infamously described chili-pepper-pants bandit, all of the suspects are black males who wear hoodies. The female student who brought this up then pointed out that there were many in the room who fit that description. Because of the vague descriptions, those who match them have a negative stigma attached to them. She then asked if police sketches could be sent out. Venuti said they give out information that is given to them by the victims. Sketches take hours, and the point of the text and email alerts is to quickly put out a warning.

Police officers’ lack of communication at a crime scene. A few residents said police refused to give them information, at the scene, about what was happening. Venuti said he would talk to his team about keeping open communications and notifying others who ask.

Richmond Police. VCUPD keeps a close relationship to RPD as well as Virginia State Police. However, it was strange to attendees that they do not use the same radio system. The entire communication system is also due for an upgrade.

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Update #2 — October 10th, 12:42 PM

Richmond Police have arrested two men, James V. Banks and Joshua L. Bryan, both 19-years old, for an armed robbery. Police believe the two are also connected with the robbery spree that occurred Monday evening around VCU campus.

Banks and Bryan have both been charged with robbery and use of a firearm for an incident that took place on the 500 block of E. Grace Street on the evening of Monday, October 8th. Banks has also been charged with brandishing a firearm.

Police are still determining whether the suspects are involved in a series of six robbery-related incidents that also took place on Monday night (see story below).

Both of the suspects are from Hanover County, and neither are VCU students. Richmond Police and Hanover County deputies cooperated in making the arrests.

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Update #1 — October 10th, 9:20 AM

Yesterday afternoon at City Hall, Richmond Police Deputy Chief Eric English joined VCU Police Chief John Venuti to discuss the recent armed and attempted robberies that occurred Monday evening around VCU’s Monroe Park campus. They were joined by City Administrative Officer Byron Marshall, VCU President Michael Rao, and other City officials.

Deputy Chief English announced he would assign extra patrols to the areas affected.

“We have always had a good working relationship with the VCU Police Department,” said English. “We expect these extra resources will go a long way to making anyone planning future robberies to think twice.”

Chief Venuti welcomed the added assistance.

“I am committed to using whatever resources are necessary to provide a safe environment for the 50,000 students, faculty and staff at VCU,” said Venuti. “This extra manpower will help us to achieve that.”

Also yesterday, Mayor Dwight Jones met with VCU President Rao to discuss the use of additional resources and ways the City and VCU can further collaborate.

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Original — October 9th, 10:38 AM

View Robbery-related crimes — 10/8/12 in a larger map

Six robbery-related incidents involving firearms took place last night both on and near VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, according to Richmond and VCU Police.

The first incident occurred at approximately 7:37 PM at 913 W. Franklin Street. Witnesses reported that three black males approached, one displayed a firearm and demanded money.

An attempted robbery involving a firearm took place a short time later at Grace and Foushee streets at approximately 8 PM. Around the same time, another robbery took place at First and Grace streets in which the assailant brandished a gun. The victim told Police that the assailant wore pajama pants with a chili pepper pattern.

Both an armed robbery and an attempted armed robbery occurred a short time later around 8:30 PM at Laurel and Cary streets.

Police report that yet another attempted robbery took place a short distance away at Cary and Belvidere streets also around 8:30 PM. Police say all incidents might involve the same individual.

“I am very upset along with all of you that last night six robbery related crimes happened on or in the vicinity of the Monroe Park Campus,” said VCU President Michael Rao in a statement today. “Richmond Police are investigating five of the incidents and VCU Police are investigating the one incident that happened on our property [at 913 W. Franklin]. Together they are working diligently to apprehend those responsible for these crimes.”

Safety, said Rao, “is a top priority at VCU,” adding that the University’s police force is the largest in Virginia with 92 sworn officers.

Rao: “What happened last night is untenable. I [will] meet with Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer and Police Chief today, and with Mayor Jones tomorrow. I will emphasize my concern for the continued need for a strong partnership between VCU and the city to prevent crime and protect the more than 50,000 students, faculty and staff who live and work on and near our campuses.”

VCU informed students and the community of the armed robberies throughout the evening via the VCU Alert system.



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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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