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VCU police hand out safety devices to students

Photo 2 - Siok and Venuti with device

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. The following story was reported by those VCU students.

By Allison Landry and Audra Shreve (Special to WTVR.com)

The VCU and MCV Alumni Association donated 1,040 of these safety devices to the VCU Police Department

RICHMOND, Va. –  VCU Police are taking new steps to increase safety around the university’s two campuses.

More than 1,000 new safety devices, donated by the VCU and MCV Alumni Associations, will now be freely distributed by police to students and staff.

With the portable battery-operated audio and light device, students can sound a loud alarm, if they are hurt, uncomfortable in their surroundings, or are suspiciously approached around campus.

Police hope the blaring sound and flashing strobe light will deter any crime and bring in help to any possible victims around campus.

“An audible deterrent is an excellent way to deter and interrupt the chance of someone being victimized by a person who’s intending to commit a crime,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti.

Sgt. Jonathan Siok, the police officer who spearheads this new safety initiative, said the device was ideal to distribute, because it’s relatively easy to assemble and use.

“The device can be easier deployed than mace,” Siok said. “You can clip one end onto your belt or book bag, and clip the other end to either a belt loop or even your shirt, and if an emergency arrives you can just pull the pin and activate the device.”

Only a few devices have been handed out so far, but VCU Police plan to raffle off five to 10 devices during upcoming safety presentations and new student orientations.

During these presentations police also plan to inform and engage students, staff, and concerned members of neighboring communities about safety prevention and education.

“Safety here at VCU is everyone’s responsibility,” Venuti said. “We have been really aggressive this year with keeping students informed of the things that are happening mostly around VCU, because we want students to be aware of those situations that happened, and we want students to have that information so they can use it to safeguard themselves.”

During the 2010-2011 academic year (August – May), VCU Police responded to 37 robberies between the Monroe Park and MCV campuses.

So far this academic year, there have only been 15 robberies reported to the police.

In addition, larceny, the most common crime on campus, has decreased by 24% this academic year.

VCU sophomore Alex Waller said he tends to walk in groups to stay safe anyway, but he thinks it’s smart to use any provided resource that may protect him.

He believes the new safety devices are ideal because they can’t physically hurt anyone.

“I’ve seen someone in the library one time playing with their mace and spraying themselves,” Waller said. The safety device “is something that’s not going to harm you, but at the same time, would deter someone coming at you,” he added.

Other students agreed the new devices have advantages over other safety tools.

“I think it would be easier to pull out a pin then getting out pepper spray and spraying it in someone’s face,” said VCU freshman Ally Palmer. “It would take less of a reaction time to pull it out.”

“It could be beneficial,” VCU freshman Jane Taylor said. “It’s like a blinding device, so they couldn’t see, which would make it easier to get away.”

But VCU sophomore Katrina Khalil said alternatives such as mace or a small weapon are more effective when facing a real threat.

“I’d use this device because it’s effective and it would scare them away,” she said. “But I would still use my mace, because I think it would be more effective and actually hurt the person, so they don’t hurt me.”

The 1,040 donated devices are a start, but not enough for all VCU students and staff.

In the next few weeks, VCU Police will work with the Barnes & Noble bookstore at VCU to stock safety devices. According to Barnes & Noble General Manager Amy Randolph, the devices are expected to be available at the beginning of April for around $10.

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.