VCU policing model to adapt civilian review board

VCU Police officers watch a crowd of protesters head toward the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Aug. 18. Photo by Hannah Eason

Sanjana Ravulapalli, Contributing Writer

In an update to its public safety model announced on Friday, VCU will transition from policing the community to “equitably and more holistically fostering the safety and well-being of every individual” on campus.

The new model will start with the creation of a safety and well-being advisory committee, which will be made up of civilians and will operate independently from VCU Police. 

Jed Baul, a senior international relations major and former student government senator, is not satisfied with VCU’s response. 

Baul said the new safety model is neither sincere nor in the interest of students, but rather a response from the university regarding its failure to ensure “all students, including those who have been marginalized, are safe.” 

“In other words,” Baul said, “they’re only trying to wipe their hands clean and save themselves at our expense.” 

Baul criticized VCU Police and President Michael Rao for focusing on property damage, rather than the harm being caused by police forces in Richmond. 

On the night of July 25, protests caused $100,000 in damage to Monroe Park campus, according to estimates from the university. The following night, police detained at least a dozen people in and near Monroe Park after they ordered around 50 demonstrators to disperse from the park. 

“Changing things for the better starts with actually caring about the students and community and giving them the resources they need,” Baul said, “not asking to identify and arrest protesters.”

The advisory committee will be co-chaired by Andrew Daire, dean of the School of Education, and VCU Health System’s Chief of Health Impact Sheryl Garland. Both have national expertise in social justice and health equity. 

VCUPD will create a metrics dashboard available to the general public by October. The safety and well-being advisory committee will maintain the dashboard and publish key performance indicators, which are determined by feedback from the community. The dashboard will include officer complaints, department use of force and resolution, random body-worn video camera reviews and excessive use-of-force complaints.

Sophomore political science major Josh Hartt, who serves as the recruitment chair for College Republicans at VCU, does not believe a committee will be effective.

“What we kind of expect to have out of this committee, is a whole lot of words and not a lot of actual implementable policy,” Hartt said.

However, Hartt thinks that transparent metrics are a good idea and would be the only change he would make to the VCUPD. 

“I think definitely transparency of information is great anywhere, the more people know about what’s going on behind the scenes, the better they can understand both perspectives of the situation,” Hartt said. “Establishing a database and more transparency between the VCUPD and anyone who wants to know about the VCUPD is a good use of resources.”

As part of the university’s public safety reform, students no longer need to contact VCU Police for after-hours mental health emergencies. University Counseling Services is also available on weekends and after hours for mental health emergencies at 804-828-6200. Students can speak with a trained professional, day or night, at this number.

VCU Police will be trained for crisis intervention, de-escalation and impartial policing practices through implicit-bias-awareness. The department also will participate in the One Mind Campaign, an international program that aims to improve police responses toward people with mental health conditions. Officers will be required to follow restrictive use-of-force policies as well as report excessive use-of-force incidents.

Junior English major Lina Romero said it’s important to have unarmed professionals who are properly trained and equipped to communicate with those suffering from mental health conditions respond to related calls, rather than police.

Romero said the changes to the safety model sound good in theory, but that she’d like to see them be properly enforced.

“I mean it sounds good on paper, but actions speak louder than words,” Romero said. “I don’t really trust that until I actually see some progress.”

According to the release from VCU administration, students and VCU community members can share feedback and ideas on the new safety model though a Google form sent in the email, or by contacting [email protected]

Based on the feedback they receive, co-chairs will determine committee membership in early September. Once a committee is established, students will receive updates about the new safety model, guidance for policing strategies and initiatives, and a plan for community involvement. Updates will be posted online at safetymodel.vcu.edu.

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