The Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department announced this week that it recorded the lowest number of officer-involved use-of-force incidents in the past 10 years. Officials credited new policies, training, and community engagement through the LiveSafe App as key factors in the department’s success during the 2019-20 academic year.
VCU Police Chief and Associate Vice President for Public Safety John Venuti started tracking use-of-force reports in 2010. At that time, the department recorded 75 incidents. As of July 31, that number was down to 12, an 84% reduction.
“Clearly, three factors are critical to successful policing in the 21st century: they are police legitimacy, de-escalation efforts and police accountability,” Venuti said in a statement released Aug. 25. “VCU Police have consistently looked at ways to reduce use of force and increase efforts by officers to de-escalate situations.”
The LiveSafe App is playing a central role in Venuti’s accountability initiative, which is part of what he calls “policing with a purpose.” Shortly after the death of George Floyd in May, a VCU alumnus contacted Venuti with a recommendation to create a way for people being stopped by police or those witnessing a concerning interaction with police to notify senior VCU police officials in real time and, if requested, anonymously.
Venuti responded by creating a “Check Police” button on the LiveSafe app, which the university has been using for years to enable community reporting of safety and security concerns. When users click this tip option in the app and report concerns about an officer’s conduct, police supervisors can intervene in real time.
Tips are automatically routed to VCU Police dispatchers, who monitor LiveSafe around-the-clock. According to VCU police protocols, dispatchers check in via radio with the officer involved in the incident and send a police supervisor to the scene.
Venuti’s innovative use of LiveSafe has not gone unnoticed by law enforcement veterans. “I think this is a valuable form of feedback for police managers,” said former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “Sergeants should be on scene when calls get complicated. This use of Livesafe gives real-time notice to supervisors that can make the Police and citizens safer. This is a great use of new technology in policing.”
“We welcome police reform and my officers and civilian staff are very mindful about this movement in society,” Venuti said. “One officer asked to facilitate group discussions to have difficult, but necessary, conversations about racial issues. Officers of different backgrounds want to better relate to each other and community members,” he said. “We will continue to welcome feedback in any way we receive it and will deliver high levels of transparency and accountability as we work through reforms and manage safety.”
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