RICHMOND, VA. —Richmond City Council approved an ordinance on Monday night that would give the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department jurisdiction over a larger area of downtown.
Currently, VCU PD has concurrent jurisdiction with the Richmond Police Department in three areas in the downtown core. Two around VCU’s medical campus and one around the Monroe Park campus. The area covered is roughly 6.75-square miles.
Ordinance 2018-336 authorizes the City Attorney to petition the Richmond Circuit Court to add roughly 1.9-square miles to the to the jurisdiction. The additional area proposed would connect the two campuses and encircle more of the medical campus.
In a letter written by RPD counsel to the council on the proposal, it stated that the two departments have shared jurisdiction for over 30 years and the last expansion of that area came in December 1999.
It added that the university has 25 buildings, including VCU PD headquarters, in the proposed expansion area.
"The expansion of their jurisdiction in this matter will allow them to police those facilities more effectively and efficiently and will essentially both join the VCU medical campus and the academic campus in one continuous area, which will make their job much more efficient and effective in that matter,” said interim RPD Chief William C. Smith at Monday night’s hearing on the ordinance.
But the chief of VCU PD said RPD will still handle investigations into deaths, sexual assaults, and other serious crimes, per the two departments’ memorandum of understanding.
“Even with expanded jurisdiction for VCU police, Richmond police will continue to be the primary law-enforcement provider for this area in the city of Richmond,” said VCU PD Chief John Venuti. "The primary focus for VCU police officers will continue to be providing services to students faculty and staff.”
But at the council meeting on Monday night, the majority of public speakers who addressed the ordinance were not in favor of it.
"I am against the expansion of the jurisdiction because I believe it will lead to more people, more young people, more older people being harassed, more frequently by police rather than feeling more safe or protected,” said one woman.
"I think VCU police have very little accountability compared to regular RPD. I already think our PD doesn’t have enough accountability. So it really concerns me that we would be expanding the jurisdiction of a police department that has even less accountability to the community,” added one man.
But there were a few supporters among the public speakers, including those who said they currently live in the area under shared RPD/VCU PD jurisdiction.
"They have been accountable to our citizens because there have been times where we would have residents in the neighborhood that are 60-, 70-, and 80-year-olds that’s dealing with people that have a disrespect for them.,” said one man who identified himself as the president of the Carver Civic Association. "We could call VCU officers and say, ‘Hey, could you please help us out with these problems?' Not only did they make the people that are causing the problems in the neighborhood accountable, but then they actually came back and helped us sort out what we were having, as far as difficulties, as far as the neighborhood was concerned.”
The next step for the ordinance to go into effect will be for the City Attorney to file a petition with the Richmond Circuit Court. It will then be assigned to a judge, who will then decide how to proceed with the request and whether it will be approved.