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Illustration of paper airplanes with one flying off in a different direction than all the others [View Image] A police training program this week is among the "first steps to change the paradigm" for how VCU Police approaches policing and public safety. (Getty Images)

Answering a call for reform, VCU Police hosts leadership training for officers and partner agencies

“This training encourages all of us to think about our motivations and how best to solve problems with the community, no matter the challenges.”

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Policing agencies traditionally have a top-down approach to leadership. Chiefs give directives to their command staff who, in turn, direct individual officers to take action.

This week, the VCU Police Department and its policing partners in Richmond are looking to change tradition by participating in the nationally known course titled, “Every Officer is a Leader.”

The goal is to empower all officers and staff to initiate improvements to operations and to help deliver public safety services that best meet the community’s needs.

Participants study 60 research-based skills in areas such as self-management, interpersonal communication, conflict management, problem and opportunity management, team and organization development and versatility skills.

“Following calls for police reform last year I wanted to totally change the way we approach policing,” said John Venuti, VCU police chief and associate vice president for public safety. “This training encourages all of us to think about our motivations and how best to solve problems with the community, no matter the challenges. We want to be focused on highly effective solutions.”

Regional collaboration

To involve public safety partners in the greater Richmond area, VCU Police opened the six-day course to other agencies and security providers. Participants included Virginia’s Division of Capitol Police; the Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield and Virginia Union University police departments; RMC Events; LEW & Associates Inc. Security Services; and VCU Health Security.

More than 75 officers, security and civilian staff are participating in the training, provided by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at no cost to VCU.

Capitol Police Col. Anthony S. Pike, who completed the executive training, said agencies are always leaning on each other to support events. No one agency works alone.

“The timing for the training has been spot on,” he said. “After the last 12 months, I think resetting priorities and goals is so important right now and COVID basically separated everyone from each other.”

Pike said he is looking forward to officers taking a “train-the-trainer” section of the leadership course — a feature that makes it easier to replicate training later for all staff.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said content on leadership, transformation, communications and efficiency for police departments would definitely help his organization.

“This course can only enhance the changes and direction in which RPD is going now, not only at the executive level, but all the way to new recruits in the academy,” he said. 

Delivering public safety services in new ways

In June, VCU announced a series of recommendations to transform public safety and well-being on campus. Venuti has started implementing those recommendations, which come from VCU’s Safety and Well-being Advisory Committee. For him, that means a departure from business as usual when addressing safety needs on the academic and medical campuses.

“The future of public safety at VCU involves strong leadership at every level,” Venuti said. “We’ve never had the ability to implement a top-to-bottom leadership program that can reach all staff. It’s an exciting time because this really gets everyone — at VCUPD and at other agencies — on the same page for what’s ahead.”

Participants in the training this week have learned about the connection between empowering staff and making agencies more effective, a process that leads to better services, programs and responses for communities.

“This training will establish a baseline for officer-level leadership that will promote clear and concise communication,” said David Pulliam, a VCU Police officer. “It can be used to bridge the gap between officers, professional staffing, administration and, most importantly, the VCU community.”

Mark Sykes, assistant chief of Capitol Police, said he welcomes anything the agency can do to refine processes and the services they deliver.

“Identifying root problems, that is something that is critical and crucial to us,” Sykes said.

As VCU Police looks at the academic year ahead, Venuti plans to encourage the use of new skill sets.

“As officers and staff feel empowered to make changes, they can address problems with a fresh perspective,” he said. “We’ve learned that traditional approaches in policing are no longer working. This is one of our first steps to change the paradigm in how we keep all community members safe in Richmond.” 

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