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President’s office hosts virtual town hall on gun violence and public safety

Police Chief Timothy Longo says gun violence rates are higher than ever

Audience members were given the opportunity to air concerns and hear about both new and ongoing safety initiatives on grounds
Audience members were given the opportunity to air concerns and hear about both new and ongoing safety initiatives on grounds

The President’s Office held a virtual town hall Tuesday afternoon to address community concerns about increased gun violence on Grounds and student safety following a spike in gun-related homicides. 

An estimated 800 viewers were given the opportunity to voice concerns to University President Jim Ryan, Timothy Longo, chief of the University Police Department and vice president for security and safety, J.J. Wagner Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer and Robyn Hadley, vice president and chief student affairs officer. 

The town hall comes in the wake of abnormally high rates of gun violence in Charlottesville, including the deadly November shooting that took the lives of three University students — second-year College student Devin Chandler, fourth-year College student D’Sean Perry and third-year College student Lavel Davis Jr.

According to Longo, the rates of lethal gun violence this year are the highest he has seen in Charlottesville. Longo also said that since January, there have been five murders in Charlottesville and 50 shots fired incidents.

“To put that [number] in context for you, in the almost 16 years I’ve served as the Chief of Police in the city of Charlottesville, from 2001 to 2016, I never had any more than [five homicides] in an entire year,” Longo said. “There were some years I had none. On an average, we might have had two, maybe three, at most five.”

In order to protect students and respond to possible incidents, the University announced they would continue to increase police and ambassador presence both on and off Grounds. Last March, UPD ran active shooter simulations while students were on spring break, which have since expanded to drills with faculty, staff and the University Police’s new active response team. Longo shared plans to expand existing initiatives, including adding more members to the University’s Community-Oriented Police Squad and implementing more security cameras in University spaces. 

The COPS program began in the fall of 2021 in response to increased shots fired incidents and placed increased numbers of police officers on the Corner during the weekend. The program faced criticism from a group of Law students who called for reinvestment in the Charlottesville community rather than increasing police presence. 

Ryan asked a question from the audience regarding concern from students from students of minority backgrounds feeling safe under increased police presence. While many students historically objected  to increasing police presence, Hadley said Student Council and other student organizations are meeting with her regularly to work collaboratively, but she did not provide specifics about what the meetings will look like. 

Beyond student communication, Ryan announced that the University plans to create a Community Safety Working Group composed of University, Charlottesville and Albemarle community members. Ryan hopes that the group’s diverse perspectives will help the University build more collaborative frameworks for preventing gun violence.

“It's pretty clear to me that this is a problem that's not just about law enforcement,” Ryan said. “We are bringing together people who have experience across [diverse] categories to offer really concrete ideas about what we can do immediately to try to reduce gun violence above and beyond the simple enhancement of law enforcement efforts.”

Outside of University initiatives, panel members also stressed the importance of individual student action for keeping the collective community safe. Davis urged students to download the Rave Guardian app, which provides safety resources and location tracking free of charge for users who sign up with their University email address. Members also encouraged students to utilize the University’s Safe Walk and Safe Ride programs — free transportation services for students traveling at night — blue lights and buddy systems, especially when traveling after dark.

Despite the continued increase of gun violence in Charlottesville, Ryan assured viewers that the University will remain committed to its efforts as long as gun violence threatens the community. 

“You can rest assured that we will work as hard as we need to and for as long as we can until we have reduced the gun violence that is plaguing this region right now,” Ryan said. “You have my word.”

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