Safety forum results in packed house, students turned away
About 80 students had to be turned away from the University Safety Forum, which packed the Harris Hall Auditorium Thursday night. Students were given the opportunity to voice concerns about campus security and meet VCU Police Chief John Venutti.
VCU Police Corporal James Deford said he gave 50 of his business cards to students after he had already turned away 30 students. He said there were approximately 900 students invited to the forum from three classes (two criminal justice classes and one forensic science class). The auditorium room holds 425 people at full capacity.
However, Deford said the majority of the audience did not attend to receive extra credit for a class.
“We had a lot of people that just showed up just because they wanted to be a part of it,” Deford said. “I would assume it had a lot to do with the issues that have been going on lately and the introduction of our new chief.”
Tiffany Ott, a psychology major, said the forum addressed the recent events including the ongoing investigation of missing exchange student Jonathan Dorey. She said Venutti told forum attendants it was not a smooth transition to police chief amid the search for the missing student but VCU Police are continuing their efforts and treating the case a priority.
“(Venutti) came across really cool and collected with information and he really wants to improve things around VCU and keep safety a priority,” Ott said.
The forum addressed concerns with Security Escort Services, which Ott said she found to be one of the most interesting points. Many students reported waiting for close to an hour when VCU Police claim the transport service responds to callers in approximately nine minutes, she said.
“You’re calling them, obviously, to have a ride home … because you want to be safe, but you’re going to be standing by yourself for an hour to wait for them,” Ott said.
Mary Prete, a freshman with an undeclared major, said some students had issues with guests not being able to use the escort service.
“They should do that for the safety of everyone including people who are here with VCU students,” Prete said.
However, some students said the forum did not ease initial concerns with campus security. Christine Kaloudis, a freshman mass communications major, said she thought some comments by Venutti and forum speakers did not tackle the real issues.
“I thought that some things they were saying was just to make us happy,” Prete said. “Especially with the escort services—I’ve waited over an hour before for them to pick me up and they were saying nine minutes. I’ve used it twice and I probably won’t use it again just because of that.”
Erica Peranski, a junior criminal justice major, said while the forum was informative she did not agree with many of the forum speakers’ remarks.
“I just don’t think that we do have that much security,” Peranski said. “I don’t see police officers all the time and there aren’t that many lights on campus.”
But Michelle Peace, the associate chair for the department of forensics science, said she felt it was important for students to attend the forum.
“It’s important that the student body becomes aware of the efforts made to protect them and that they do have a voice in this community,” Peace said.