VCU alerts designed to inform, empower community

Photo Courtesy of VCU News.

John A. Venuti 
Guest Columnist 

Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Police Department are committed to maintaining a safe learning, living and working environment on our campuses. Part of this commitment is ensuring that members of the community have the information they need to keep themselves safe. The reality of our urban setting means crimes will sometimes occur in the VCU footprint that could pose a danger to our community. That is why the university, from the presidential level down, is committed to aggressive alert and notification procedures.

Crime alerts are sent in compliance with the federal Clery Act, which requires most colleges and universities to notify their communities when an ongoing threat to their safety may exist. VCU is extremely open with its alert policies and procedures and meets or exceeds all federal requirements for crime notification.

In determining when and how to notify the campus community, university and police leadership consider a number of factors in deciding whether an ongoing threat exists. These factors include things like nature and location of the incident, the involvement of a weapon, and whether a suspect has been apprehended.

There may be instances when alerts are not sent following a crime because no ongoing threat exists. For instance, if a suspect is immediately arrested, as is often the case, or if a fight occurs between two people who know each other, there is probably no ongoing threat to the broader community.

Alert messages often are often based on preliminary reports, but every effort is made to ensure alerts are informative, accurate, useful and timely. In the instance cited by Shane Wade in his column last week, the text alert sent in connection to a homicide near the intersection of Broad and Belvidere streets included safety information but did not say a shooting had occurred. This was due to an error by the messaging vendor, not error or withholding by the police department, and the problem has since been corrected. The character limit of text messages also means police may not be able to include every piece of information they would like to share. That is why it is so important that students monitor the VCU Alert page in the event of an emergency.

One unique policing challenge at VCU is that our campuses lack the traditional borders and boundaries you might find at other schools.

Because of this, and because of the large number of students who live near our campuses, VCU PD has jurisdiction not only on the Monroe Park and MCV campuses, but also in an area covering several blocks that stretch into the surrounding neighborhoods. Crimes in the VCU core campus areas — legally defined areas where the school’s educational activities primarily occur — are subject to more robust alert procedures. Maps of the core campus and extended jurisdiction are available on the VCU PD website.

VCU PD may still issue a warning if an off-campus incident poses a threat to the community. This was the case with the recent use of the siren, the highest level of campus alerting. The event that prompted the siren was an armed robbery outside of the core campus. Because officers believed the suspect was running toward the core campus, the police department alerted the community to go or stay indoors. The suspects in this case have since been arrested.

VCU Alerts are never intended to scare the community or give the impression that crime near VCU is more or less prevalent than anywhere else in central Virginia. The alerts are a tool for distributing information that students and the rest of the VCU community can use to stay safe. More than 75 percent of the community in our most recent survey said the alerts made them feel safer on campus, and 94.6 percent of the community said they felt “safe” or “very safe” on our campuses. I encourage each of you to sign up for alerts through the MyVCU portal, take alerts seriously and respond appropriately when you receive them.

If you have any questions about our procedures or want more information, please call VCU Police at 804-828-1196. And as always, if you see something or someone suspicious, don’t hesitate to call our emergency number, 804-828-1234, or contact us via the LiveSafe mobile app. Remember, safety at VCU is everyone’s responsibility.

Police chief John Venuti heads the VCU Police Department.

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