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John Venuti: High degree of safety as VCU’s police chief

December 15, 2015 | Virginia News

News Image BY BRANDON SHULLEETA | Richmond Times-Dispatch

John A. Venuti, Virginia Commonwealth University's police chief, championed efforts to combat sexual assaults at colleges this year and issued body cameras for officers.

For those and other efforts, Venuti was recognized as a Campus Safety Director of the Year by Campus Safety magazine.

"Although I am the face of VCU police, this award really highlights all of the great work done by the men and women at VCU police," Venuti said by email. "There has been incredible transformation of the VCU Police Department culture."

Venuti served as chairman of the law enforcement subcommittee of the Governor's Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. Among recommendations, the subcommittee called on law enforcement to be more proactive in assault prevention and called on the state to establish stricter requirements for evidence retention and campuswide alerts.

Venuti joined the Richmond Police Department in 1984 and, as a major, was in charge of the homicide/violent crimes unit from 2003 to 2010. He became VCU police chief in 2010 and now heads one of the largest campus police departments in the nation, with 92 sworn officers.

In addition to issuing body cameras to VCU officers, Venuti has led efforts for better lighting and a stronger police presence in areas of concern on and near campus. In another step, VCU police issued an open invitation for students to use the lobby of the Police Department to meet strangers for Craigslist and other transactions.

In spring 2015, 96.5 percent of students, faculty and staff surveyed reported feeling "safe" or "very safe" on VCU's campuses, according to the school.

Under Venuti's leadership, VCU police also implemented the LiveSafe app, which is free for VCU students, faculty and staff. Users can send in photos, videos and texts to dispatchers anytime, seven days a week.

Venuti, who additionally serves as VCU's assistant vice president of public safety, also has overseen the upgrade of a universitywide security camera system, and the Police Department has used footage in hundreds of investigations.

IN HIS WORDS

Favorite book/movie
Favorite book is "The Leadership Challenge," by Kouzes and Posner. When I was with Richmond police, I sent this book via Amazon to newly promoted sergeants and lieutenants. This book is the bible of leadership.

Favorite movie is "The Princess Bride." I love this fairy tale because when my kids were little, we had to have watched this movie 100 times. Every time we watched it, everyone knew and recited all the lines in the movie until someone in the family got mad. This movie reminds me of when my kids were little - I miss that.

A small moment in life with a big impact
When I was assigned to the DEA Task Force, I had it made. I had the best job in the entire Richmond Police Department. One day I was feeling sorry for myself, complaining and whining about everything. I walked into 7-Eleven to get a cup of coffee and there was a man with one leg also getting coffee. That man greeted me, inquired as to how I was doing and had the most positive outlook that I have ever been exposed to. I left the store and realized that if the man with one leg could be like that, I could be like that. I have never forgotten that brief encounter. Everyone that I tell that story to gets it immediately. Don't whine, complain and gripe. Contribute in a positive manner. All of us have the ability to change someone's life with how we act and the things that we do.

Role model
In the world of policing, role models are hard to find. When I look at my career, there have been significant investments to RPD and VCU. There is no way possible to make investments without having someone at home watching all the things that are happening on the back end while I am at work for extended periods of time. For me, that has been my wife, who has never complained about all of the time I spent away from home at work. Any success that I have had, she owns. I also look to my kids for inspiration. My son and daughter are two of the strongest, bravest people I know. I often go to bed and pray to wake up and be more like my son and daughter each day.

Alternate profession or course of study
I would pick public affairs/ marketing. I believe that organizations need to tell their stories. I think it also takes a special gift to do that effectively. There is a big difference between telling your story and spin. I hate spin. I believe in being open, honest and transparent.

Something that might surprise others
I am an extreme introvert. I present the exact opposite as an extrovert. I realized a long time ago that to lead others, I needed to flex and crawl out of my shell and be more engaging and outgoing. So I spend my days at work operating way outside of my comfort zone. For me, it's exhausting. One of my favorite things to do is to play golf alone.

Proudest accomplishment
I am most proud of being named Campus Safety Director of the Year by Campus Safety magazine. Although I am the face of VCU police, this award really highlights all of the great work done by the men and women at VCU police. There has been incredible transformation of the VCU Police Department culture, and I feel this recognition summarizes all of the dedication, commitment and hard work of all of my employees. I often fool around and tell people that the only thing that is the same at the VCU Police Department over the past five years is the paint on the wall, and soon that will change with our police headquarters moving to Third and Broad streets.

Favorite thing about Richmond region
My favorite thing about the Richmond region has been the change that has taken place since I arrived in 1984. Richmond is a different city now. When I arrived, there were a few good restaurants; now there are many. Richmond is a much safer city now. That factor alone is a driving force for the growth and development of Richmond.

JOHN A. VENUTI

Position: Assistant Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police, Virginia Commonwealth University

Born/hometown: Sept. 1, 1963; Flushing, Queens, New York City

College: Culinary Institute of America (associate's in culinary arts), Bluefield College (bachelor's in management and leadership)

Family: wife Christina, children Maria and Vincent
 

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