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Crime

Campus safety report shows VCU rape reports increased, but causes may be complicated

The university’s crime statistics are complicated because there are several different sets of data. Just days before VCU released its annual campus safety report, which goes to the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI posted crime numbers for the nation’s colleges and universities.

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By Diana DiGangi – Capital News Service

A recently released campus safety report showed Virginia Commonwealth University’s number of rape reports nearly doubling, but officials say could be a good sign.

Both the VCU Police Department and the university’s Wellness Center say the increase could be due to students feeling more at ease in coming forward about being the victims of sexual assaults – not an increase in the crimes themselves.

“We believe individuals come forward because they feel comfortable reporting to VCUPD and that awareness and education is a key part in communicating to the community,” said Matthew Lovisa, coordinator of communications and marketing for the university’s Division of Student Affairs.

In its 2017 Annual Security & Fire Safety Report, VCU reported that 15 rapes occurred on campus in 2016. That was a big jump from eight rapes in 2015 and five in 2014.

Crime statistics are complicated because there are several different sets of data. Just days before VCU released its annual campus safety report, which goes to the U.S. Department of Education, the FBI posted crime numbers for the nation’s colleges and universities.

The FBI data showed that VCU had reported nine rapes in 2016. Why didn’t the number match the 15 rapes tallied in VCU’s own report?

Because VCU must pass along all rape reports to the Department of Education, even if the victim has decided not to file a criminal complaint, according to VCU Police. For example, the victim may have chosen to file a Title IX complaint or just seek counseling services.

There was a similar discrepancy in sexual assault statistics in 2015, when the FBI listed three criminally reported rapes at VCU and VCU’s campus safety report listed eight rapes overall.

Officials didn’t seem to think the increase in numbers was indicative of a rape trend as much as a sea change in attitudes toward sex crimes and the victims of such assaults.

“VCU Police has had a paradigm shift in the way the department handles sexual assaults since 2010,” said department spokeswoman Corey Byers.

In 2010, the FBI listed VCU – along with 14 other schools in Virginia – as having reported zero rapes. Only seven colleges and universities in the state reported any rapes that year, with the highest being four at Radford University.

“VCU Police officers want to establish trust and rapport with survivors and want them to know they will be supported when they come forward,” Byers said.

VCU Police are participating in a nationwide campaign called “Start By Believing.” The campaign urges law enforcement officials to trust people when they report sexual assault.

VCU Police Chief John Venuti served on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence in 2014-15. It recommended that law enforcement agencies provide a “You Have Options” program, which offers victims several ways to report a sexual assault, including just giving authorities a verbal record of the crime.

The Wellness Resource Center at VCU has a team of advocates for students who have experienced sexual violence, intimate partner violence and stalking. They meet with students to provide them with guidance, options and support.

In the spirit of “You Have Options,” VCU Police added several “soft interview rooms” for victims of violence or their families. These rooms have soft lighting and furniture and are meant to make those being interviewed as comfortable as possible.

“Our whole goal is just making sure they know that there’s ‘no wrong door,’” said Fatima Smith, the Well’s assistant director of sexual and intimate partner violence, stalking and advocacy services. “In other words, wherever you enter, you’ll be supported, you’ll be believed, you’ll be heard.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Crime

Richmond Police identify 83-year-old victim struck and killed by vehicle outside Libbie Market

The driver of the vehicle, an adult male, remained on scene.

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From Richmond Police:

The Richmond Police Crash Team has identified the individual who died after being injured in a collision in a parking lot on Libbie Avenue as John Busch, 83, of Richmond.

At approximately 8:15 a.m., officers were called to the 400 block of Libbie Avenue, in the parking lot of Libbie Market, for the report of a person struck by a vehicle. Officers arrived and found a male, Busch, down and injured in the parking lot of a business after having been struck by a vehicle in the lot. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injury.

The driver of the vehicle, an adult male, remained on scene.

The RPD Crash Team responded to the scene and interviewed the driver and witnesses. The investigation is ongoing. Investigators have not placed charges at this time.

Anyone with further information about this collision is asked to contact RPD Crash Team Sergeant D. Cuffley at (804) 646-3135.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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Crime

Richmond Police seek information on suspicious person seen on doorbell cam in The Fan

The individual has been captured on doorbell cameras in the overnight and early morning hours near several homes in the Fan. Third Precinct detectives suspect he may be attempting to enter homes in the area.

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From Richmond Police:

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the individual in the photo above who is suspected of suspicious behavior in the Fan neighborhood recently.

The individual has been captured on doorbell cameras in the overnight and early morning hours near several homes in the Fan. Third Precinct detectives suspect he may be attempting to enter homes in the area.

Anyone who may have information or knows the identity of this individual is asked to call Third Precinct Detective M. Williams at (804) 646-1007 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones also may be used. All Crime Stoppers reporting methods are anonymous.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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