Sarah Elson, Contributing Writer
An ordinance approved in a 7-2 vote by the city council at a raucous Monday night meeting will greatly increase the scope of the VCU police department’s jurisdiction in Richmond.
The proposal was sponsored by Mayor Levar Stoney and presented at Monday’s council meeting by VCU Police Chief Jon Venuti and Richmond Interim Police Chief William Smith. It will almost double the area where VCU police — who have the same arrest authority as Richmond’s force — can patrol and enforce the law.
Council President Cynthia Newbille sent the session into recess as it considered the ordinance Monday after a discussion about racial diversity in VCU’s police force initiated heated back-and-forth.
“I do not appreciate color being brought into this, because I know that when we call 911 we don’t get on the phone and say, send me a white officer, send me a black officer,” said Councilwoman Reva Trammell after her colleague Michael Jones brought up the issue. “We do have in the past asked to have a ‘Hispanic-speaking’ police officer in my district so they can communicate with some of the citizens.”
After some laughter from the audience, Trammell suggested those who laughed should leave if they are not homeowners.
The remark led to a heated discussion between the councilwoman and attendees. After the argument council called for a brief recess, the council immediately reconvened and approved the measure.
In the preceding moments, Councilman Michael Jones probed Venuti about diversity in his force and on whether VCU Police could adequately police the area if officers did not represent the diversity of the student population.
“I believe that the basic tenant of community policing is for the police force to reflect the community it serves,” Jones said.
Many students and residents cited concerns about over-policing when they voiced their opposition to the change.
“I find it unfortunate that they passed it because they had and opportunity to hear from the constituency that’s currently most affected by VCU PD,” said Nicholas Da Silva, president of VCU’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. “They kind of acted contrary to that knowledge, and so I’m very disappointed in the council.”
Richmond resident Mallory O’Shea said she was concerned about areas that would be surveyed by the Richmond and VCU police forces and the security firm contracted by the school.
“It’s an incredible amount of policing and it’s entirely unnecessary,” O’Shea said.
The department currently has 99 officers. A department spokesperson told The CT they do not plan to increase the number of officers. The security firm RMC Events, which is contracted to VCU, will not be affected by the expansion.