If you picture policing as a line, with conviction and prosecution on the right and community engagement and safety efforts on the left, it's easy to see the difference between municipal and campus law enforcement, said John Venuti, assistant vice president of campus safety at Virginia Commonwealth University. Venuti came to VCU in 2010 after more than 26 years with the City of Richmond Police Department, where his last position was to oversee the homicide and violent crime division.Since taking the top campus safety job at VCU, Venuti has led the division in accomplishments including reducing the use of force by 83 percent and reducing robberies in the core campus and jurisdiction by 74 percent.Venuti attributes his unit's success in large part to a workplan based on recommendations from President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “Historically, police have done a great job tracking crime. The report said police departments need to do a better job of measuring their relationship with the community,” Venuti said.Venuti recognized that while his officers and staff would always do the tasks the police are expected to do, they were also called on to do many other things beyond law enforcement, and their interactions outside traditional policing improved relationships within the campus community. Even the unit's website was reworked to emphasize the importance of community relationships.When Venuti first arrived at VCU and considered ways to improve the unit, he first wanted to know how safe people feel on campus. He contracted with a vendor for a perception of safety survey to be administered. Using a vendor for such a survey is important to ensure the results are complete and unbiased, he said. Venuti expected a significant percentage of students, faculty, and staff to indicate they did not feel safe, based on anecdotal evidence. But more than 93 percent of people felt safe.Venuti continues to collect survey results and uses comments to plan improvements. For example, if he sees multiple complaints about poor lighting in a particular area of campus, they are likely to see new lighting in that area in the near future.When members of the community observe responsiveness from the campus safety unit, they feel safer, Venuti said. On the most recent administration of the survey, 96 percent of respondents said they felt safe on campus.“Success is responsiveness,” he said. And beyond being responsive to constituents' needs, the key to success is the ability to be a good partner, Venuti said. Venuti is willing to partner with any group on campus that wants to implement a campus safety initiative. His unit has worked with divisions as diverse as student government, athletics, and engineering.Having a vision of his unit as a community partner helps support improvements in the unit such as the reduction in the use of force. “People are going to focus on things they think are important,” Venuti said. He never tells his officers not to use force. He tells them to “use force when it's absolutely necessary.”The unit completes a comprehensive investigation into every use of force. That ensures officers are protected, Venuti said. And body camera footage is stored permanently to clarify any questions that arise.During an investigation, many agencies ask if the use of force was justified. Venuti asks that question, but he asks another question first: Was the use of force necessary? Asking both those questions is critically important, Venuti said.Email John Venuti at email@example.com. Visit the VCU public safety website at https://police.vcu.edu/.Adopt keys to successJohn Venuti, assistant vice president of campus safety at Virginia Commonwealth University, attributes the success of his unit to the following key strategies:✓ Partnerships and collaborations. This is the most important component of effective campus policing, Venuti said.✓ Creativity and innovation. Venuti encourages his officers to look outside the box for new solutions to what are sometimes old problems.✓ Technology. VCU was one of the first campuses to implement the LifeSafe mobile app. It has a large number of users on campus, Venuti said. Students would rather use that app than call the police department, he added.
Campus Security Report – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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