Mackenzie LaBar, Contributing Writer
After the expansion of VCU Police’s jurisdiction and the appointment of the first new police chief in nine years, leaders in the department are discussing newly appointed roles, coverage of the city and challenges in recruitment.
In August, former Assistant Police Chief Howard “Mike” O’Berry became the department’s interim chief, and former Lt. Nicole Dailey became interim assistant chief. The change comes after the former police chief of nine years, John Venuti, was appointed to vice president of public safety for VCU and VCU Health.
“I’ve worked with [Venuti] for almost the past 10 years, and our agency has come a very long way,” O’Berry said. “Right now we’re an agency that’s highly responsive, we embrace community policing, fair and impartial policing and [Venuti] has had a big influence on me.”
In January, Richmond city council approved the proposal to double the size of VCU Police’s jurisdiction, but some residents believe the expansion was an overstep of power.
“It’s an incredible amount of policing,” Richmond resident Mallory O’shea said, “and it’s entirely unnecessary.”
VCU Police’s previous jurisdiction was about 6.75 square miles, and the expansion added about 1.9-square miles. The acquisition bridged the gap between Monroe Park and MCV campuses covering, “sporadic VCU buildings and properties all in that block,” O’Berry said.
“I am not trying to police any more than I have to,” O’Berry said.
The VCU Police website states that the expansion does not change the layout of the campus and allows police to work more closely with community members in the downtown area. VCU and Richmond Police have the same authority on and around VCU campuses — which is referred to as concurrent jurisdiction — and has for more than 30 years. The last jurisdiction expansion was December 1999.
“The challenge with the expanded jurisdiction is managing the expectations that people think we’re going to police all that area, and it’s absolutely not the case,” O’Berry said. “We expanded the jurisdiction to provide better service to VCU.”
O’Berry said the expansion gives VCU police the ability to assist students without the local police department.
“If a student needs our services, instead of us going there and having to call another agency to assist them,” O’Berry said, “we can just go and assist them.”
VCU student Darren Johnson expressed concern that the department is lacking in diversity.
“The protection in our community is important to us since we are so diverse,” Johnson said. “It’s only suitable that those responsible for enforcing our diverse communities are diverse themselves.”
According to the VCU Police website, there are 97 officers sworn into the department. Of these officers, 57 are white, 28 are black or African American, five are Hispanic or Latino, three are Asian, two are more than one race and one is American Indian or Alaskan.
“I think right now what we’re competing against is the recruitment, the desire is there to grow the department and better represent the community that we serve,” Dailey said. “The struggle is trying to find the candidates that want to be police officers.”
As of July, VCU Police is hiring for the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and pre-certified officers.
VCU Police spokeswoman Corey Byers said the role of social media in communication has grown. Byers said it also helps create dialogues between the department and the community.
“We kind of look at the social media aspect as more preventative,” Byers said. “If we’re looking for someone who’s involved in a crime, we push [information] out and people are very willing to help us in that respect. Those interactions matter too.”
VCU Police’s social media includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @VCUPD and YouTube.