Originally published September 16, 2012 in The Commonwealth Times
Coauthored by Jessica Dahlberg
The VCU Police Department hired a private security firm to patrol VCU’s campuses after students said they didn’t feel like they saw enough of a police presence at night.
The VCU Police Department started the initiative this August to increase security personnel visibility on both campuses by teaming with G4S Securities, an international private security firm. The VCU Police Department contracted a pilot program with G4S to patrol both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses in response to a survey conducted last spring to gauge students’ perception of campus safety.
The G4S patrol vehicles and personnel are commissioned by the department on a 16-week trial basis. G4S declined to comment on its contract with VCU or its operations on campus.
G4S is on campus strictly to patrol core areas and to observe and report suspicious and criminal activity. They have no powers of arrest and do not carry weapons. Because they are not deputized as police officers, G4S personnel are instructed not to intervene if a situation occurs, according to VCU Police Chief John Venuti.
G4S personnel have no powers of arrest, are unarmed and are not deputized as police officers. Photo by Amber-Lynn Taber.
“We are working on some really concentrated efforts to reduce the opportunity of students, faculty and staff being victimized outside of the core campus area, but still within our jurisdiction,” Venuti said. Venuti says the ‘core campus’ the main areas that students travel through as part of their daily activities at VCU. With the exception of a few irregularities, the core campus boundaries are W. Marshall Street in the north, Cumberland Street in the south and Madison and Harrison streets in the east and west, respectively. East of Belvidere Street, the northern boundary is West Broad Street.
The trial program for G4S on campus will cost about $35,000, funded through a surplus in the police department’s budget from the previous fiscal year. Venuti believes the pilot program will be cost-effective, noting that if VCU fully staffed a similar program with more positions and vehicles, more money would have been needed.
“What it takes to keep this campus safe is an army and G4S is part of the army,” Venuti said.
If the responses to the fall perception of safety survey are positive, Venuti hopes the administration will find a way to fund the program in the future.
The G4S security vehicles will be patrolling the core campus area every night between 9 p.m. and either 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Dentistry student Katie Farrell said that her perception of safety on campus has been affected by the VCU crime alert system.
“(The emails) are important to keep people aware, but they also make (Monroe Park) seem dangerous,” Farrell said.
VCU Assistant Police Chief Chris Preuss believes the pilot program to be highly beneficial with nothing but support from students and the community so far.
“Everything has been very positive,” said Preuss about responses to G4S on campus.
“We had one complaint about the lack of arrest powers … but everything’s been really positive. I have yet to hear any negative vibes coming from students; I even talked to some of the local business owners and they’re really digging it too,” Preuss said.
But VCU nursing student Emilijia Motivans doesn’t think that G4S will make much of a difference to off-campus students.
Motivans lives near Rite Aid, where on Aug. 28 an alleged abduction and rape occurred, which was downgraded to suspicious activity a few hours later. VCU students were notified of the incident through the VCU Alert web page, but no immediate alert text message or email was sent and Motivans only found out about the incident through Facebook.
Motivans thinks VCU security should implement something that would alert students about crimes that happen both on and off campus rapidly.
“The truth is that even though Rite Aid and the area surrounding it is considered off campus, I don’t really consider it to be, because students live, hang out, and work around the ‘off campus’ areas,” Motivans said.
Since the Rite Aid incident, she is more cautious than ever at nighttime and chooses to do her errands during daylight hours only.
Police Chief Venuti confirmed that G4S does not patrol outside of the core campus, including the area Motivans lives.
“Once students step ‘off campus’ they are more likely to be a victim of a crime because (students) treat those areas as if they were still on campus, when in reality, they are in an urban environment where one needs to be aware of their surroundings … at the end of the day, that is their most valuable tool,” Motivans said.
She said she wants VCU security to alert students of off campus crimes that include neighborhoods like Jackson Ward, Carver, Oregon Hill and the Fan, but thinks that students should be aware of the situation, no matter where they are.