Vol. 14, Iss. 11
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If you picture policing as a line, with convic-
tion 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 Uni-
versity. Venuti came to VCU in
2010 after more than 26 years
with the City of Richmond Police
Department, where his last posi-
tion 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 Presi-
dent 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 relation-
ship 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 respon-
siveness 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 ini-
tiative. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the VCU
public safety website at https://police.vcu.edu/.
Focus on goals of 21st-century policing
By Joan Hope, Ph.D., Editor
JOHN VENUTI, ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT OF CAMPUS SAFETY, VIRGINIA
Adopt keys to success
John 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 polic-
ing, 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 rst 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.