Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015
A survivor-centered approach to working with victims of crime and the implementation of an extensive security camera system have landed the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department on the world’s radar.
VCU Police was recently honored with two international awards during an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.
For excellence in victim witness services, the department was one of six law enforcement agencies worldwide — and the only agency in higher education — to win an honorable mention.
VCUPD won in the category for small agencies, which is based on the number of sworn officers.
“With a dedicated victim-witness officer, a dozen patrol officers who are victim-witness specialists and really strong connections across the university, we’ve been able to offer individuals solid support and direct them to the resources they need following an incident,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti.
Officers can assist victims with attending court dates, seeking restitution for damages from a crime, receiving on- or off-campus counseling and health services and advising them on issues of confidentiality and personal protection.
“You can judge a department by how they treat victims of crime; good departments treat them well, great departments change victims’ lives,” Venuti said. “We want to be that great department, one that treats everyone with fairness, dignity and respect. We want to assist crime victims with the recovery and restoration of their lives, and those are the things that victims never forget.”
VCU Police was also honored with the Michael Shanahan Award for Excellence in Public/Private Cooperation. According to IACP, the award is given in honor of University of Washington Police Department Chief Michael Shanahan (retired), who served that agency for 24 years. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in the development and implementation of public-private cooperation in the public safety field. VCU Police received an honorable mention for a private/public project with SyCom Technologies.
In recent years, VCU Police worked with SyCom Technologies to create and install an extensive security camera system with cameras on both of VCU’s Richmond campuses. The company offered initial proof of concept work to the department pro bono to identify the areas that required surveillance, among other goals.
An existing camera system at VCU had outdated technology and produced grainy images for investigators; those images were ineffective at providing useful information about crimes against students, faculty and staff.
In August 2013, VCU Police launched an upgraded camera system. Today, that system has more than 600 cameras.
“Collaboration is one of the key elements to our success and we’re willing to work with anyone who wants to help us make VCU a safer place each and every day,” Venuti said. “This award recognizes our organizational ability to partner and solve problems effectively.”
There’s a strong possibility that anyone coming to the VCU area with intentions other than living, learning or working, is going to be captured on a camera.
To date, valuable video and photographic evidence has contributed to more than 840 cases, including car accidents, robberies, assaults and thefts. In some cases, the system has helped investigators determine that a reported crime did not actually take place.
“People’s expectation when they send their kids off to college is that they’re going to be safe,” Venuti said. “Any investment that institutions make in safety and security are all sound investments.”
Since VCU campus footprints are part of the city of Richmond, footage has also been used to assist the Richmond Police Department.
“There’s a strong possibility that anyone coming to the VCU area with intentions other than living, learning or working, is going to be captured on a camera,” Venuti said.
This isn’t the first year the department has won accolades from law enforcement’s premier professional organization.
In 2014, IACP selected VCUPD as first in the nation among colleges and universities for its National Law Enforcement Challenge. The award recognized traffic safety programs for 2013 with a focus on those that address issues including impaired driving, occupant protection and speeding.
IACP is the premier law enforcement association in the world with 16,000 members in 94 countries.
About VCU and VCU Health
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.