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U.Va. hires security firm for $250,000, considers ways to improve safety following white nationalist torchlit march

“What happened is going to be a wake-up call for law enforcement all over the country,” says U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan

<p>White nationalists held a torchlit march through Grounds on Aug. 11.&nbsp;</p>

White nationalists held a torchlit march through Grounds on Aug. 11. 

In the wake of the Aug. 11 white nationalist torchlit march on Grounds and the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, the University has hired an outside security firm to evaluate safety at the University. The University has also established a working group to assess the University’s response to the recent events. 

The firm Margolis Healy & Associates — a company based out of Burlington, Vt. which offers consulting on campus security to K-12 schools, colleges and universities — is being paid $250,000 for their services. 

According to an email to the University community from Law School Dean Risa Goluboff, who will be chairing the working group, the firm will “conduct a comprehensive review of our safety and security infrastructure, policies, and tools.”

“We are prepared to make additional investments in staffing and infrastructure based on their recommendations,” University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The University has faced criticism of alleged police inaction to the event, which resulted in numerous injuries as white nationalists clashed with counter protesters near the Thomas Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda. 

The working group — created by University President Teresa Sullivan — is comprised of deans and other University leaders.

“We see our task as looking at what happened so that we can make sure it never happens again,” Goluboff said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily on Tuesday. 

The University has already taken some steps to increase student safety, such as increasing police presence on Grounds and extended the Ambassador program to include coverage on Grounds in areas such as the Lawn and residential areas.

The University Police Department is investigating incidents that occurred on Aug. 11, and the University is reviewing its safety alert protocols and plans to better educate the community about them.  

As another effort to increase safety on Grounds, the University Counsel is reviewing state laws and University policies regarding weapons. Sullivan said in an interview that she would be supportive of having the Lawn declared an official University “facility,” which could then open the door for regulating the presence of firearms. 

“I am talking with the University Architect, and then I would like to go to the Board [of Visitors] with the possibility of having the Lawn declared a facility,” Sullivan said. “It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, people are living in it, it’s an enclosed area with limited ingress and egress.” 

“We’re exploring this, and we’re also looking to see if there’d be any unforeseen consequences to doing that, things that we wouldn’t want to live with,” she added. “But as of August 11, I don’t believe our police had the ability to stop open or concealed carry in that march, up until the point that things got out of hand, and the first punch got thrown.” 

As a new policy, the UPD will also be informed whenever the Office of Environmental Health and Safety approves the use of open flames on Grounds in order to help the UPD take action against unapproved uses.  

After receiving backlash for not enforcing an existing policy regulating the use of open flames on Grounds, Sullivan said she was aware of the policy as it related uses such as candles in dorms, but said it would be more strictly enforced in the future after the torches at the Aug. 11 march were used as weapons.

“The fact that we had a more general open flame policy, I candidly was not aware of,” Sullivan said. “We will make our police aware of this in the future. There is a procedure for getting approval for the flame through Environmental Health and Safety, and we’ll be sure that the police can contact Environmental Health and Safety in the event of unapproved flames.”

She also said police are being made aware of a state law prohibiting the burning of objects in public places with the intent to intimidate, which will be enforced moving forward.

“What happened is going to be a wake-up call for law enforcement all over the country about what looks like a peaceful march and ends up not being peaceful, and what you do at that point, when it’s not peaceful,” Sullivan said.