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UVa police chief says gun violence has reached levels he's never seen before

Roughly 800 people spent their early afternoon on Tuesday in a virtual town hall with University of Virginia officials to discuss public safety amid an uptick in gun violence in the area.

Timothy Longo, the chief of the UVa Police Department and the former chief of police for the city of Charlottesville, said he has never before witnessed the level of gun violence the area has experienced in recent months.

“The city of Charlottesville has had five murders since January,” Longo said during Tuesday’s town hall. “To put that into context for you, in the almost 16 years I served as the chief of police in the city of Charlottesville – from 2001 to 2016 – I never had any more than that number in an entire year. There were some years I had none. … They’ve had five just in the first three months of the year.”

Since September of last year, gun violence in Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County has claimed the lives of 14 people and injured 22 others, according to an ongoing Daily Progress tally.

Longo said there have been multiple measures the university has undertaken in order to keep the community safer including running active-shooter simulations, expanding the perimeter that UVa security ambassadors walk daily and issuing community alerts for crimes that take place off Grounds.

Longo – who was joined Tuesday by university President Jim Ryan, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, and Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Robyn Hadley – opened the town hall by addressing the most recent act of gun violence near the university, when 20-year-old Lakori Brooks allegedly shot and killed 26-year-old city resident Cody Brian Smith on Elliewood Avenue. The shooting took place at 1:50 a.m. on March 18 in a parking garage across from the Biltmore restaurant on the Corner.

Although the Corner is not UVa property, it is a hot spot for UVa students, staff and faculty to eat, drink and socialize while staying close to Central Grounds.

Brooks reportedly fled the scene in a car that evening, but Longo said the university’s 2,000 cameras positioned on and off grounds allowed UVa police to track the shooter’s movements. Longo said the university is installing new surveillance cameras “almost daily” due to the construction of new buildings on and off Grounds.

Officers with the Charlottesville Police Department arrested Brooks on March 20.

Longo said he found it “interesting” that authorities have confirmed that the victims knew the suspects in each of the five most recent homicide cases. Longo also mentioned that it was “fairly remarkable” that all suspects in those five cases this year have been arrested by local and state authorities.

According to the nonprofit organization Cold Case Project, the clearance rate, the rate at which law enforcement solves murder cases, dropped to 51% in 2021 compared to 58% just two years prior.

Longo told town hall attendees on Tuesday that “beef” was the cause of most of the gun violence at the beginning of this year and for the past couple of years.

“Historically it has been drug-related,” Longo said. “Historically, it has been linked to some underlying criminal conduct. We’re working to aggressively look at our intelligence to look at each one of these cases individually to see what the relationship was between suspects and victims and even witnesses to try to get to what the underlying cause may be.”

While the university police department compiles its own crime analysis alongside the Albemarle County and Charlottesville police departments, Longo, who also serves as the UVa associate vice president for safety and security, said he is expanding the perimeter that UVa security ambassadors walk throughout the day on a daily basis.

The ambassadors, who are employed by RCM Events and provide updates to Longo, will expand their footpaths to reach down West Main Street toward the Downtown Mall and south of UVa Medical Center in the area adjacent to Cherry Avenue. The new perimeters will go into effect on March 31, Longo said.

The expanded paths near the Downtown Mall are likely in response to two shootings near Sixth and Garrett streets that left two people injured on the evening of Jan. 23.

Longo explained that university police claimed UVa property and “a very large parcel of real estate that surrounds the ground” when the UVa, Charlottesville and Albemarle County police came together to reach a concurrent jurisdiction agreement in 2005.

“The reason we chose the area within the parameters of the perimeter of that map is because it’s the area where most of our students live off Grounds,” Longo said. “Since October of 2021, we’ve established here at the university police department what we call the Community-Oriented Policing Squad, and that squad is dedicated to working off Grounds within that concurrent jurisdiction area.”

Longo said the squad, also known as COPS, works from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Longo said several squad members were on the Corner during the time of the March 18 shooting alongside about 70 university officers, about six Charlottesville police officers and “several” university ambassadors.

Longo revealed that university police began running active shooter simulations along with Virginia State Police and the FBI last March while students were on spring break to “begin simulating an actual attack here on grounds.”

“We’ve stood up and trained our rapid response team,” Longo said. “Highly trained, highly skilled, highly equipped officers to be able to respond to, God forbid, an active threat on Grounds.”

In light of preparing for an active threat on or near Grounds, Longo said UVa’s leadership team decided to issue community alerts for crimes that take place off Grounds and are an ongoing threat near student housing.

UVa offers two kinds of safety alerts: UVa alerts and emergency notifications. Any student, faculty member, staff member or parent with access to a UVa email will automatically receive alerts about criminal activity or “imminent threats” from the university police department via email. Separately, anyone can sign up for emergency notifications via text on the UVa Police Department website.

In compliance with the Clery Act, which requires universities to make information about crimes committed on Grounds and subsequent security procedures public and accessible, the university police department keeps a record of all community alerts on its website.

In addition to keeping up to date with notifications from university police, UVa Dean of Students Robyn Hadley recommended students take extra precautions while navigating UVa grounds and the surrounding community.

“I happen to live on Grounds and, likewise, I’m cognizant about my surroundings,” Hadley said. “I live just up the hill from where the shooting occurred last weekend, and so I use a buddy system. I let folks know when I’m moving around or going somewhere, I signed up for the text alerts. We want to encourage folks to encourage their students to download and actually use the Rave Guardian app and also to ask the ambassadors for help when there is any concern.”

The Rave Guardian app allows those with a UVa email address to build their own safety network made up of people they trust, free of charge.


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