Visitors to Virginia State University after hours can expect to be stopped and asked for identification. Students should see better lighting and more foot patrols at night, and additional cameras are to be installed to monitor the campus.
Those are some of the improvements underway to meet security deficiencies identified in a consultants’ study conducted as the result of separate incidents in the fall in which one student was stabbed and another fatally shot.
Michael M. Shackleford, VSU’s vice president for student affairs, reviewed the plan to address the findings during a meeting of the executive committee of the board of visitors Thursday.
Much of the discussion centered on how far the university can go to limit access to a public campus and whether the spot checks of IDs would result in accusations of harassment.
Shackleford said the university already regulates vehicular traffic after 6 p.m. with permission from the state. The main entrance on River Road is gated, and other entrances are closed, but foot traffic is harder to manage.
“You really can’t stop people from walking on campus,” but if it’s a security question and “you don’t have business on campus after a certain time, we will run you off campus,” he said. “The students who invited people on campus who don’t belong will be the ones saying you guys are harassing my guests.”
The police department will add two additional full-time personnel to assist with ID checks, he said.
The open access to campus was deemed a security risk by students, faculty and staff during focus group meetings with the consultants.
“In essence, this is a public institution,” Rector Harry Black said. “It’s supported by taxpayer dollars. There has to be a minimal level of openness.”
The challenge for VSU and other public institutions, he said, “is to balance that requirement for openness with the need for security.”
That challenge is also faced on Virginia Commonwealth University’s urban campus, but VCU spokesman Michael Porter said the police department does not conduct spot checks of IDs.
Shackleford said the security assessment by the Powhatan Group of Wilmington, Del., focused on the need for more funding for security, training and “police officers on the turf.”
The university has more than 250 cameras around campus, he said, but the report found some were not working and a few facilities did not have any at all.
Portable lighting is being set up as an interim step around residence halls and parking lots that the assessment identified as areas needing attention.
“Nothing caused me to want to jump out of the window,” Shackleford said of the report, but he took issue with several of the findings.
The report said the police department lacked command and supervisory personnel, and it “neglected” to maintain its authorized personnel strength.
The department was short five officers, which Shackleford said was because of timing, not neglect.
The assessment coincided with a month in which five officers left, but the department averaged 2.5 vacancies per month between January and November last year.
Three of the five vacant positions will be filled by Thursday, although two of the new officers will have to attend the police academy. A search has begun for command personnel, and all hires are to be completed by June 1, he said.
Shackleford also disputed the report’s conclusions that VSU’s security policies are outdated and the Emergency Operations Plan was out of compliance. He said the emergency plan does not expire until September, and an updated version already has been completed.
The assessment also cited a need for agreements between VSU and external public safety agencies.
Shackleford said quarterly meetings are now held with Petersburg and Chesterfield County, and are planned with Colonial Heights. Memorandums of agreement are either being drafted or updated with the police departments of those localities and with Virginia State Police.
While the report pointed out some issues VSU already was addressing, Shackleford said, it also gave impetus “to reallocate some resources to make things a greater priority for us.”
The full report was not distributed to committee members, and VSU declined to release it to the Richmond Times-Dispatch under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
VSU spokesman Tom Reed cited an FOIA provision that exempts disclosure of information that would jeopardize security of facilities.
However, Black agreed to hear the review in open session after The Times-Dispatch objected to closing the meeting.
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