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U.Va. police enlist watchful employees to thwart crime
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U.Va. police enlist watchful employees to thwart crime

By Rebecca Arrington

Not every law enforcement officer at U.Va. wears a uniform and dons a badge. Some patrol their beats in plain clothes. Not because they're working undercover, but because they're "civilian" employees trained to keep an eye out for suspicious activity as part of the University Police department's "Workers on Watch" program.

Some 800 facilities management, transit service and housing employees have completed training in this program, which has been in existence for about six years, according to Sgt. Melissa Fielding, head of the University's community police unit (CPU).

Safety tips

Make sure all personal items in the office, as well as in vehicles parked on Grounds, are secured and out of plain sight.

Lock all office and vehicle doors and windows.

Employees attend a three-hour training seminar to learn how to identify suspicious or criminal activity, such as loitering, flashlight beams in buildings at night, or anyone removing accessories from or looking into vehicles, Fielding said. Anyone who witnesses such acts should notify the police by calling 911, she said.

Fielding, who has worked as a U.Va. police officer since '93, became head of CPU when it was established in 1998.

"Community policing is a department-wide philosophy that promotes community improvement, police-community partnerships, proactive problem-solving and community empowerment to address the causes of crime, fear of crime and other community issues," she said.

The mission of U.Va.'s CPU is to maintain and improve the quality of life on Grounds and to keep it a safe place to live, study, work and visit, she said. The unit, which replaced the department's crime prevention office, is made up of a group of police officers who address public safety issues in the University community.

At the Health System, all employees are asked to assist with security efforts. It's built into their orientation and annual review programs, explained Lt. Quenton E. "Q" Trice, director of Health System security. "We want everyone to be attentive, especially those in Medical Facilities Management, Environmental Services and Nutritional Services, he said. Employees in these areas are out and about at all hours and are more likely to see potential crimes, said Trice, who has worked at U.Va. since 1982 and been in his current post since 1997.

"We've always encouraged workers to be our eyes and ears." The practice was in place long before the Workers on Watch program was given a name, Trice said.

Crime at U.Va. dropped 30 percent in 1998, Fielding said. "It decreased nationally, too, but I'd like to think that [our] department's community policing philosophy contributed to the decrease," she said.


Other programs

U.Va.'s community police unit offers 40 public safety programs, some of which are listed below. Employees with questions about public safety, or who would like to schedule a safety class, should call 924-8842. The unit can also be contacted online at: http://www.virginia.edu/~police/

Women Faculty & Staff Self-defense Classes and the Rape Aggression Defense Program instruct people on what to do in case of an attack, and ways to try to prevent them.

Escort Services: Call 964-6400 to use this on-Grounds transportation service, offered daily from 6 p.m. to 7a.m.

Bicycle Registration: Free bicycle registration is provided to U.Va. students, faculty and staff.

Silent Watch Program: People who witness a crime can report it online anonymously. To access the form, go to the police web site (address above) and click on "Report It!" in the menu section.


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