U. Virginia Meets Group's Security Standards

The University of Virginia has met the nearly all of the recommendations for campus safety and security recently proposed by Virginia21, an "action-tank", or political advocate, for young people, said dean of students Penny Rue. Virginia21 announced its newest plan to increase safety and security on college campuses state-wide Thursday with the three-part "Protect Virginia Students" proposal.

Virginia21 has three main goals: strengthen campus police, increase the accountability of universities and give power to college communities to solve problems on their own, according to Virginia21 spokesperson David Solimini.

The "Protect Virginia Students" plan, which comes after an extensive two-year study of campus crime by the Virginia Crime Commission, will create a "college law-enforcement center to set standards and guidelines for campus police across the state," Solimini said.

The Center will also create a centralized data collection network to be implemented by all state universities, he said.

Currently, the State Department of Education evaluates Virginia colleges and universities annually in areas including affordability, diversity and availability of financial aid. Part of the Virginia21 plan is to increase the accountability of colleges by requiring campus safety and security to be added to the scorecard to measure progress toward lowering crime, Solimini said.

When state universities meet their requirements and make progress in areas of safety and security, they receive competitive state-funded grants, he said.

According to Solimini, universities will be free to use these competitive grants toward campus security in any way they see fit.

"Schools are getting increased freedom with the grants," Solimini explained. "For example, police and college administrators can apply for grants to run education programs to decrease sexual assaults, or college police can buy radios to communicate with local police."

According to a Virginia21 press release, several state universities do not have written policy and procedure manuals or a centralized database to track case information.

However, the U.Va has already implemented many of the reforms, Rue said.

"U.Va. has a fully commissioned police force that has a good working relationship with the city and county police," Rue said. "We were able to serve as a model for the plan, which is what you would expect from a flagship institution."

According to the Virginia21 press release, the proposal also calls for better standards for hiring and training.

University Police sergeant Melissa Fielding said University agents already undergo rigorous training in preparation for their jobs.

"Our officers undergo 14-week police training academy," she said. "Then they have 11 weeks of field training."

Although the University already follows most of the recommendations from the Crime Commission, there are some recommendations the University Police Department has tried but found to be ineffective, such as the lack of student participation in Safe Ride, University Police Captain Michael Coleman said.

According to the Virginia21 press release, only a handful of collegiate police departments are accredited by an appropriate accrediting agency. The University Police Department is currently working toward accreditation, according to Fielding.

(C) 2006 Cavalier Daily via U-WIRE