VIDEO: Exploring the future of campus policing With the VCU police chief John Venuti
by David Slipher
What is the role of the VCU Police Department in promoting campus and community support for all? It's a key question VCU chief of police John Venuti explored during a recent Wilder School Lunch and Learn presentation.
Venuti opened his discussion with a reflection on the evolution of the VCU Police Department. As a 26-year veteran with the Richmond Police Department, Venuti worked in narcotics and also spent time with the SWAT team and supervised more than 450 murder investigations. He joined VCU in 2010 and since then has advocated reform in policing models and building relationships with the public — both on campus and off. Especially in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, he has emphasized the need for a greater role in proactive police-community relationships. “We are really, really focused on engagement, and I push my staff on a regular basis to have non-law enforcement-related interactions with members of the community,” Venuti said.
“Parents send their students to VCU and we have an obligation to provide a higher standard of care to ensure that students have all of the resources that they need to have, the support that they need, and to ensure that we're providing the best services that we possibly can.” – John Venuti
As far as campus law enforcement agencies go, the VCU Police Department is one of the largest in the nation and the largest in Virginia. The department also houses a Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS)-certified police training academy which permits officers to be trained locally within the VCU Police Academy. Over the years the VCU Police Department has expanded its jurisdiction throughout the Richmond community.
Through his work, Venuti seeks to blend municipal policing with campus law enforcement. He explained that the department's focus on traffic and safety, especially considering recent pedestrian fatalities by motorists on campus.
“Parents send their students to VCU and we have an obligation to provide a higher standard of care to ensure that students have all of the resources that they need to have, the support that they need, and to ensure that we're providing the best services that we possibly can,” said Venuti.
His overarching goal is to develop a culture transformation that fosters collaborative and accountable relationships with the VCU community. Venuti presses his officers to think about their approaches, encouraging new strategies that help to meet campus needs and facilitate communications, dialogue and bias-free policing.
“When we think about a police officer in a municipal setting, going into someone's neighborhood, that's a lot different than a campus law enforcement officer going into a shared space as part of the community,” he said.
Examples of Venuti’s Add a space initiatives on behalf of the department include extended campus watch patrols, traffic guards and nighttime escorts for students. His department was also recognized for the Game Changer program, which is focused on facilitating dialogue between police and community members with different life experiences. Venuti has also supported a Safety Ambassador program, campuswide advisory committee on safety and well-being, and crisis training and mental health support initiatives for students. VCU PD is also working to create additional opportunities for internships students.
“That allows for a lot more opportunity, for engagement and interactions with the community. There is certainly more opportunity to initiate and try different initiatives which really allows us to use creativity and innovation.”
Venuti then fielded questions from audience participants on topics including privacy and technology usage, officer vacancies, police accountability, and standards of care for students. He also spoke to the intensive training that police officers receive to respond to active threats.
About the speaker
VCU Chief of Police John Venuti provides institutional public safety oversight and strategy for VCU and VCU Health. He advises the university and health system leadership and partners with the local community on a wide variety of institutional safety, policy and compliance matters as well as emergency response and planning.
Under Venuti’s leadership, the VCU Police Department has prioritized partnership, collaboration, customer service and engagement. The department has been accredited with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators since 2010, was the first campus law enforcement agency in Virginia to be designated a certified crime prevention campus, the first in Virginia to implement the “You Have Options” program designed to increase reporting of sexual assault and the first agency in the Richmond area to implement body-worn cameras for officers.
About the moderator
Chernoh Wurie, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice, was a sworn police officer for more than 10 years with the Prince William County Police Department. While there, he was a patrol officer, crisis intervention team member, police mentor, crime scene technician and police planner. He also completed police training courses such as crisis intervention training, criminal investigations training, basic police crime scene photography, police planners training and crime scene technician. He has co-authored other publications and wrote “Impact: A Compilation of Positive Police Encounters,” published in 2013. Wurie completed his first textbook, “Introduction to Policing: Perceptions versus Reality,” published in 2019. He is the chair of the Henrico, Virginia, police chief’s advisory board.