News & Features » News and Features

The Other Police

VCU cops are spending the summer chasing city crime and brushing up on terrorism. They're not just for campus anymore.


The teens got away. The gunman, however, was arrested — but not by Richmond police.

In both cases, the responding police were what used to be called campus cops — VCU's own police force.

In summer, when most students are gone, a night like June 21 has become routine for VCU police.

"Anything municipal officers would do, we do," says VCU Police Capt. Carlton Edwards. "Very seldom do we call the city [police] for anything."

With a budget of $4.5 million, a force of 71 sworn officers, a fleet of 25 police cars, bike patrols, a training academy, a victim/witness program and a host of support services, the VCU police department is the largest of the 28 college police departments in the state. It is the fourth-largest in the nation.

In addition to policing and securing the university's more than 150 buildings from Shafer Court to the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals to its trans-Atlantic campus in Qatar, VCU police now patrol Richmond west to Lombardy Street, east past Belvidere, south to the RMA and north to I-95. It also polices the Virginia Biotech and Research Park. And its size and scope continues to expand. So much so that it veritably has become for much of the city, Richmond's other police.

To be sure, these are bragging rights for VCU. But what does all this mean for Richmond?

A safer city and a better place to work and live, says VCU Police Chief Willie B. Fuller. "We don't have any walls or boundaries," Fuller says, explaining that VCU police have "interests" in all the neighborhoods that surround VCU.

The significance of this response and what it encompasses has spiked dramatically as VCU and its surrounding neighborhoods have grown, diversified and, ultimately, changed.

It has been nearly five years since the VCU Department of Campus Police entered into an agreement with the city of Richmond to extend its jurisdiction beyond traditional campus lines. It is the only campus police department in the Richmond area to do this.

Residents in the Fan, Carver, Randolph, even Oregon Hill who have vehemently protested VCU's presence in other matters have turned to VCU police for help, says Fuller. "We're in constant discussion with residents. They're used to calling us. We get there quicker [than Richmond police]," says Fuller.

But while the relationship between VCU police, city government and the Richmond police has evolved into one of mutual respect, it has not come without obstacles.

"A lot of people have the perception that VCU police are all older guys or security officers who don't really have the knowledge or expertise of fully trained officers," says Fuller. Not so, he insists — VCU's cops are experts.

Not long ago, rivalry between Richmond police and VCU police was prevalent. Some say it still is.

"It used to be, we didn't like them and vice versa," says Fuller. Today, he says, a partnership exists in which Richmond and VCU police coordinate everything from "power shifts" covering events at the Siegel Center and problem areas on Broad Street to criminal investigations for things like drug and sex offenses.

Richmond Police 3rd Precinct Capt. Paul S. Kiniry agrees. "We talk almost weekly," Kiniry says of Fuller.

When so many people in Richmond look askance at VCU's powerful presence in the city, Kiniry says, it's "really refreshing" to be able to rely on VCU police to handle everything from neighbors' complaints to graffiti vandals to revelers on Broad Street. "It's no more than picking up the phone and saying, 'We need some VCU officers' and we got them," says Kiniry. "It's a seamless operation."

It's also an operation — or a partnership — in which the lines appear at times to blur. When asked how the VCU police department determines what falls under its purview, Fuller explains: "We have a procedure but practicality calls for us not to use it. The only time we call Richmond [police] is if they have a resource we don't."

For example, last spring a spate of parties in the Fan had residents concerned. "I got a little weary waiting for the city to get together the resources," says Fuller. So VCU police dispatched five officers on bikes to patrol the area for two months. In addition to making arrests for things like underage drinking and disorderly conduct, the VCU police made a drug arrest in which $35,000 and a vehicle were seized, says Fuller. "It's being processed with the feds now," he says. VCU police often work with agencies like the FBI, DEA and the Secret Service, he adds.

In August, VCU police will take part in two new initiatives. The department recently received funding to upgrade its communications system, which means it will get the technology to "piggyback" on the 800-megahertz system the city shares with Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

VCU police department also is the only campus department in the state to be asked to participate in the local counterterrorism task force the FBI is organizing next month. "We'll get good, fresh intelligence reports," says Fuller.

And why is this important for VCU police? Fuller cites an example to show why: VCU is responsible for policing the Virginia Biotech and Research Park. "One of the things we got after Sept. 11 with the anthrax scare," Fuller says, "was a tenant who claimed to have a foolproof mechanism for detecting anthrax in buildings." It turns out the tenant, one individual, was a fraud. VCU police worked with the FBI and discovered the person had initiated the scheme elsewhere in areas spanning from Texas to Georgia to Virginia, says Fuller. That person is now being prosecuted.

"We need to be on the receiving end of getting the lion's share of information," Fuller says. This runs the gamut, Fuller adds, from local crime reports and dispatches to "personal protection suits and the knowledge to identify hazardous agents."

Still, despite the increasing scope of things VCU's police force is concerned with, there remain summer nights when exchange students are assaulted and random bullets rip the sky. Can VCU police handle this, too?

Fuller says it can. When asked about the seeming success and expanding role of his department Fuller appears almost giddy. "VCU is a player. We are a victim of our own success."

Fuller says that in many cases it's more effective to extend the VCU police's area of influence a few blocks rather than wait for the city to act. And that area seems to be growing.

"There's always something going on somewhere," Fuller notes. "There are always potential victims." S

Add a comment