Nov. 7, 2022
How VCU Police and VCU Facilities Management work to keep campuses clean, safe and welcoming
Strategic patrols and an emphasis on preventing and removing graffiti are among the key elements to their efforts “to make sure everyone feels welcome here.”
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Keeping nearly 200 acres of Virginia Commonwealth University’s urban campuses clean and safe is a consistent, daily focus for the VCU Police Department and VCU Facilities Management. This academic year is the first since early 2020 in which academic classes and the university’s population have fully returned to nearly pre-pandemic operations.
With the return of the university’s students, faculty and staff, the departments have been working together to make outdoor spaces, and the surrounding neighborhood, feel welcoming, clean and safe.
“I always say that everyone belongs at VCU; we’re in a city and everyone is here, it’s a hub for activities, day and night,” said John Venuti, associate vice president for public safety. “This year police officers and Facilities Management staff have been working in tandem to make sure everyone feels welcome here by maintaining clean and safe campuses. Our outdoor spaces are just as important as our academic, medical and work spaces.”
Venuti, who is also the chief of VCU Police, establishes goals for his department each academic year. This year’s goals include high levels of deployment and visibility for patrol officers and relentless follow-up on incidents.
With high visibility patrols, police officers and vehicles can be readily seen on both campuses. As part of strategic patrols, officers visit specific areas multiple times in a 24-hour cycle. This year the West Grace Street corridor and Monroe Park, a city-owned park patrolled by VCU Police, are key areas of focus.
In the department’s last perception of safety survey, 70% of respondents said seeing VCU Police officers on foot patrols increased their feeling of safety; 64% said VCUPD’s mobile patrols at night made them feel safer.
Venuti said a higher presence of visible police officers may deter those with ill intent.
“The vast majority of people here on campus are here for the right reasons — to go to class, work or stop into restaurants and businesses,” Venuti said. “We want those who come here thinking it’s OK to target people at VCU to readily see officers and vehicles and rethink their plans. Individuals are less likely to commit crimes when they know police can witness them or respond immediately.”
Strategic patrols are assigned for both campuses and police will shift officers in real time, as needed. A new shift of officers works on select nights from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. as an extra layer of police staffing.
On Friday and Saturday nights, VCU Police also participate in a “party patrol” assignment, to respond to calls for loud parties or other party-related concerns.
“Officers in the party patrol are tasked with immediately addressing community members’ concerns,” Venuti said. “Part of being in an open, urban campus is understanding that we may have to address concerns when students live off campus and may be disrupting VCU’s neighbors. The private homes and businesses in and around the university are part of the ecosystem too, and we take responsibility in being responsive to residents.”
One area police are following up on is graffiti on campus.
VCU Police Lt. Edgar Greer said as officers find graffiti, or it’s reported to police, dispatchers will check to see if the incident has been reported. If not, police take a photo and start a new report. A dispatcher will subsequently file a cleaning request with VCU Facilities Management.
“Dispatchers file the exact location of the graffiti and the description of damage with facilities,” Greer said.
According to Paul Thrift, VCU’s grounds superintendent, graffiti can come in many forms, and VCU facilities employees and contractors have been proactively identifying and diligently removing it.
“Tags on painted surfaces, such as a door to a building, are routed to the support shop staff to be repainted,” Thrift said. “The grounds team handles trash cans, lamp posts and signs by cleaning or repainting. These surfaces can often be wiped clean using graffiti removal products or quickly covered with new paint.”
However, Thrift said more extensive or difficult cleaning, such as paint that needs to be removed from masonry, often requires a contractor. VCU Facilities Management is currently testing graffiti removal products that may enhance their ability to clean masonry surfaces with staff labor instead.
In 2022, Facilities Management staff members and contractors have handled approximately 230 reports of graffiti on VCU’s campuses.
“Some graffiti — like chalk — is low impact, but I haven't seen that lately,” Thrift said. “People are using more paints, markers and stickers.”
The second part of police follow-up includes criminal investigations, as VCUPD detectives are actively pursuing individuals for vandalism. In one recent case, they used security camera footage and other evidence to connect one individual to eight instances of tagging; he is being charged with misdemeanors. Two other individuals have been identified, and police have secured warrants.
In an effort to deter vandalism as it happens, police have a “plain clothes” assignment; officers wear casual clothes instead of a uniform to watch out for people tagging VCU property.
Students, faculty and staff can submit a work order for graffiti or other facilities services needs via the Facilities Self Service. The Facilities Management website has a link to FSS at the top of the website homepage.
“Thousands of sets of eyes and ears are what's needed to ensure that VCU remains a safe place,” Venuti said. “Together all of us can keep VCU safe and clean.”
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