Shots fired calls in areas near the University of Virginia and incidents at the Corner and nearby areas have led the University of Virginia Police Department to expand its patrol duties beginning this week to include areas of Charlottesville adjacent to the university.
The department has created a new squad from its existing force called Community Oriented Policing Squad, or COPS, that will focus on the Corner and neighborhoods adjacent to the school from Thursday to Sunday, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., when students are often out and socializing.
The university police have issued eight community alerts by email to students, parents and others in the community since school began Aug. 25. Those alerts, which have been expanded this year to include parents and others in the community, created concern among some parents for the safety of their children attending UVa.
“We’ve been hearing from a lot of concerned parents and others throughout our community and this is a way we can proactively provide enhanced safety on the Corner as well as other areas,” said UVa Police Capt. Bryant Hall. “We look at it as a way to provide additional presence and high visibility while connecting with the community.”
The idea is that an increased visible police presence Thursday through Sunday will thwart criminal or violent activity that could affect students. On Wednesdays, officers will meet with business owners, student groups and others in the university community to get feedback and address concerns.
The move is similar to one made decades ago when the Charlottesville Police Department opened a satellite office on the Corner and assigned an officer full time to the university area. That came in response to a series of assaults, robberies and violence against students and others in the area.
“That is exactly what we’re doing. We want to make sure we embrace community and geographical policing. We are going to have specific officers assigned so you will have a name, you will have a face and we’ll be as approachable as possible and be on the spot so we can address anything that occurs,” Hall said.
A few years ago, the university added security ambassadors to areas on and off Grounds to help increase safety for students and others in the university community. The new COPS detail will join them.
While the goal is to increase visibility, Hall noted that police will enforce laws they see broken.
“There are certain things we are mandated to address so if there is a crime we witness, we will address it,” he said.
An existing memorandum of understanding between the city and university police that guides how the departments interact and who has jurisdiction in areas around the Grounds has been re-interpreted.
The change expands university officers’ jurisdiction to include the Corner, Rugby Road, 14th Street, Madison Avenue, 10th Street, Wertland Street, and portions of Preston Avenue.
“We’ve been in constant communication with the city police leadership and they are aware and fully supportive and plan to assist any way they possibly can,” Hall said.
According to the UVa Police crime log, most of the calls to which they respond are relatively minor. Most common are complaints of drunks in public, stolen property, underage drinking and assisting students and citizens in a variety of ways. But some serious crimes have occurred, including police taking two reports of forcible rape.
On Sept. 4, a student was struck by a bullet that went through a bathroom wall while a patron in Boylan Heights, a Corner bar and restaurant. The woman’s injuries were not life threatening.
While the Corner has been fairly quiet in the past, it has been no stranger to danger. In the early 1990s there were at least two incidents of shoot outs on the Corner between police and people who were not students.
Several Corner restaurants were known for attracting rowdy weekend crowds that often resulted in fights, especially after football games.
Some areas of Rugby Road and Gordon Avenue were targeted in the early 2000s by local residents who would assault students walking late at night and early in the morning.
A similar assault occurred early Saturday morning when a man walking north on Rugby Road near Beta Bridge bumped into one of six men walking the opposite way on the sidewalk. One man displayed what may have been a handgun and struck the victim. Everyone ran off in different directions, and the victim was not seriously injured.
Two weeks ago, Robyn S. Hadley, chief student affairs officer, joined Interim Dean of Students Julie I. Caruccio in sending an email to parents and students delineating university efforts to enhance safety in the area.
“The university has worked with the community to address safety issues in off-Grounds areas, including collaborating closely with the Charlottesville Police Department and increasing personnel in areas that are jointly patrolled by the University Police Department and [city police],” they wrote. “We are also working to expand Safe Ride access and are increasing the presence of ambassadors at key locations. Additionally, we have provided crime-prevention training opportunities for students.”
In their email to the students, the administrators said that the Grounds and surrounding areas are relatively safe, but that students should be aware of their surroundings and the potential for crime wherever they are.
“Like many cities of its size, Charlottesville is not immune to criminal acts and individuals seeking to do harm,” they wrote. “As part of the larger Charlottesville community, our safety strategy needs to encompass all of our efforts.”
Hall said the police department is in full agreement.
“We take safety seriously and want to do everything in our power to make sure students are safe,” Hall said. “When we are made aware of concerns, we want to take steps to address them and that’s what we are doing here.”