Department of the Year Award
2018 National Finalist
Virginia Commonwealth University
The Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department (VCUPD) in Richmond, Virginia, is responsible for the safety of more than 50,000 students, faculty and staff on both academic and medical campuses. The department has 99 sworn law enforcement officers and 137 security personnel and is committed to providing a safe learning, living and working environment at the university. VCUPD is committed to collaboration, innovation and technology and was the first, campus, law enforcement agency to implement the You Have Options online sexual assault reporting program. This program was designed to remove reporting barriers and encourage survivors to report sexual assaults to law enforcement. VCU prides itself on striving to provide excellent services to all crime victims.
VCUPD began its victim/witness program in 1993. There was one coordinator for the program and it was tailored to assist victims of violent crimes. The coordinator provided victims with community resources and assisted the victim in navigating the legal system.
In 2007, the agency revitalized the program by having six patrol officers complete specialized training in responding to victims of violent crime. These officers were referred to as victim/witness specialists. The specialists would contact victims of crime, as assigned, and would provide resources and court information. Currently VCU Police has 16 officers who are specially trained to work with victims of crime.
All VCUPD personnel have been trained to work with victims in a trauma-informed manner. While on shift, the victim/witness specialists are often dispatched to calls for sexual violence, stalking, physical assaults and robberies; they provide a victim-centered response from law enforcement. These officers provide resource information and assistance immediately following the reported incident.
The victim/witness coordinator follows up with all victims of crime, ensures that the victim understands all available resources and will also assist the victim in navigating the legal system. Fourteen officers within VCUPD are trained on the Virginia Victims Fund Webfile program, which allows victims to be reimbursed for out -of-pocket expenses related to injuries sustained during criminal acts.
A designated victim-witness coordinator contacts all victims with resource information and crime prevention tips. If a victim is involved in the judicial process, the coordinator will assist them and provide court accompaniment. Since 2013, the number of victim/witness specialists in the patrol division has gradually increased to 16. In 2017, an investigator started assisting with cases specifically involving intimate partner violence.
Starting in 2016, VCUPD implemented the You Have Options program (YHOP). This web-based reporting portal allows survivors and third parties to decide how much information about a sexual assault they will share with law enforcement. All law enforcement officers at the VCUPD respond to calls of sexual assault using the YHOP model, which ensures the survivor is treated with respect and is allowed to make informed decisions about how they want the investigation to proceed.
When a victim of crime reports to VCUPD, calls are dispatched to patrol officers who are victim/witness specialists. The specialists respond to the call, ensure a victim’s safety and provide and/or connect them immediately with campus and community resources. All victims of intimate partner violence, assault and battery, and fraud receive resource folders that contain information on victim service agencies, protection orders, the court process, offender release notifications, safety planning, identity theft prevention, and guidance on recovering from identity theft.
Victims are also provided with the contact information for the initial reporting officer and the victim/witness coordinator. On the next business day, the coordinator contacts the victim. The coordinator will follow up with either an email or a phone call to ensure that the victim understands the support systems available to them and assists the victim with contacting service providers if needed. The coordinator will arrange court transportation and will assist with extending protection orders.
If a case requires further investigation it will be assigned to an investigator. When an offender is served with a protection order or arrested, an officer updates the victim. If an offender is taken into custody, an officer will register the victim in Vine link to receive notifications by email, phone or text when the offender is released from jail. If a person suffers injuries as a result of being a crime victim, most specialists are trained to assist in filing a claim on behalf of the victim with the Virginia Victims Fund. The victim/witness coordinator pairs with investigators to ensure that victims needs are met throughout the criminal justice process.
VCUPD has worked towards gaining the public’s trust so that community members who are impacted by crime are comfortable in reporting their experiences. VCUPD has received numerous compliments from members of the community who appreciate the time and effort officers dedicate to their incidents. Community and campus partners routinely refer victims to the VCUPD for assistance because they know that victims will receive superior service and support. Victim advocates on campus have presented awards to the chief and two officers for their outstanding work with victims.
VCUPD is a model in service, response and collaboration; other law enforcement agencies and universities have traveled to VCU to learn about the programs, initiatives and services that the agency provides to victims. VCUPD strives to treat victims in a compassionate manner so they feel comfortable speaking with law enforcement. Not only have officers been trained in a victim-centered response, VCUPD has made the physical environment of interview spaces more inviting and comfortable.
With the design of VCUPD’s new headquarters, staff created two soft interview rooms for victims. The spaces resemble living rooms, rather than suspect interview rooms. They feature couches, chairs, and soft lighting; coloring books, stress balls and other tools for self-care are available to those that utilize the room. VCUPD will provide survivors with additional resources, such as pepper spray or sound grenades to keep with them at all times.
Since 2014, VCUPD’s victim/witness officers have had 3,874 contacts with victims. Officers contacted each of these victims and provided information on resources, crime prevention and accommodations. In August 2016, VCUPD implemented the You Have Options program to encourage victims of sexual assaults to learn about reporting options and to offer an anonymous reporting portal. With the addition of this program, paired with VCUPD’s victim-centered response, sexual assault reporting to the VCUPD has increased.
Sexual Assault Statistics: Academic Year 2016-2017
• MCV Core Campus = 4
• MCV (In Jurisdiction) = 0
• MPC Core Campus = 14
• MPC In Jurisdiction = 3
• Total = 21
Sexual Assault Statistics: Academic Year 2017-2018
• MCV Core Campus = 2
• MCV (In Jurisdiction) = 0
• MPC Core = 6
• MPC In Jurisdiction = 17
• Total = 25
The 2018 Department of the Year Awards at the National Campus Safety Summit Award Luncheon on February 26, 2019 (Day 1 of the conference).
All conference attendees are welcome at the (free) gourmet buffet luncheon. Join us in honoring this year’s recipients.
View the full 2018 Top 25 List.