‘We can do policing a different way’: VCU Police creates safety ambassador team

Outfitted in neon yellow and black, the new six-member team has one common goal, keeping VCU safe.
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 5:53 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - VCU Police Department has created a police civilian response team assigned to both campuses.

Outfitted in neon yellow and black, the new six-member team has one common goal, keeping VCU safe.

“We’re really excited. I know members of the community are really excited,” VCU Police Chief John Venuti said.

The safety ambassador concept resulted from nationwide, statewide and local concerns about policing.

In 2020, VCU created the Safety and Wellbeing Advisory Committee (SWAC) to improve its public safety model. One of the committee’s final recommendations in 2021 was that the university creates a non-sworn crisis and de-escalation unit.

VCU Safety Ambassadors like Team Supervisor Brian Sussman are here to serve and protect like sworn-in police and security officers, just in a different fashion.

“It’s important for the community to see that we’re just like they are. We’re not armed. We don’t carry weapons. We don’t have vests,” Sussman said.

Safety Ambassadors will respond to certain types of calls.

“We do welfare checks, we take jumpstarts from people who have broken down cars, escorts, and we just do normal property checks and high visibilities,” VCU Safety Ambassador Jonathan Tatman said.

These are service calls that VCU Police Chief John Venuti says do not require a sworn-in armed police officer.

“I think it’s great for us because we critically looked at a lot of the things we’re doing, and a lot of law enforcement time can be spent on other things that are higher priorities,” Venuti said.

Venuti says the team will help fill holes created by their current nine sworn-in officer vacancies.

Chief Venuti says safety ambassadors are already making an impact. He says they’re currently averaging nearly 50 service calls per day.

“In the past month, they’ve responded to over one hundred things that were dispatched by our dispatch center that would have been dispatched to one of my sworn officers,” Venuti said.

The team of six will be on mobile and foot patrol Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Sussman says they could expand their efforts in the viable future.

“We can do policing a different way here at VCU. We don’t have to go down the normal routes. This is an unexplored territory, having civilians respond to these calls, and I think it’s going to catch fire,” Sussman said.

VCU Police are looking for feedback as the community evolves.

The ambassadors hand out Guardian Scorecards with QR codes; community members can scan the code to report feedback on interactions with officers and ambassadors.

“The community was very clear that there was a need for a nonsworn response team,” Venuti said. “Getting the unit established and deployed to help people is a huge accomplishment for us. We’re listening, and we’re willing to rethink how we meet the public safety needs of every person at VCU.”