Partnership between Virginia Tech Police, Blacksburg Police at heart of community safety efforts
Whether it is game day with more than 60,000 football fans in town to cheer on the Hokies, move-in weekend with roads and sidewalks brimming with students and families, or another Monday when classes are in full swing, no two days in Blacksburg are the same.
And no one knows this better than Virginia Tech Police Chief Kevin Foust and Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson, the leaders tasked with keeping this unique community safe.
While both chiefs would agree there is no easy solution for achieving safety and security across all of campus and Blacksburg, strong collaboration between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg is at the heart of all safety efforts.
The longstanding cooperation between Virginia Tech Police and Blacksburg Police was set in motion by Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum and Blacksburg Police Chief Kim Crannis and the chiefs serving before them. When chiefs Foust and Wilson assumed their positions in 2011 and 2014 respectively, both committed to carrying on the partnership.
“Chief Wilson and I agree that strong collaboration and steady communication between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg Police are force multipliers for enhancing public safety. From the beginning, we have pledged to expand upon the joint efforts of our predecessors,” Foust said.
At a Feb. 21 town-gown meeting, Foust and Wilson offered an authentic view into how their departments work together.
Central to the conversation was how the partnership between the departments today is helping to develop a culture of preparedness; one that is ready to meet the needs of a growing and evolving community.
For example, Foust and Wilson discussed how their departments are achieving safety at scale through shared operating and technology systems. A signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) enables concurrent jurisdiction across many town and campus locations. Shared radio and security camera access aids in emergency response and investigations.
Furthermore, the departments work together to fill in gaps answering emergency calls and transporting individuals when the other is operating at full capacity. The departments also participate in trainings together to stay current on the latest law enforcement practices.
“Safety is all of our top priorities. With a strong partnership underscoring our efforts, our teams are empowered to do what is right to serve our unique community effectively,” Wilson said.
A steady, if not daily, stream of communication between the chiefs has incited new ideas for improving safety. They meet for lunch every Wednesday to discuss the latest issues in the field. Police chiefs from across the region come together monthly over breakfast to brainstorm new strategies for advancing safety in the New River Valley.
In fact, No Hokie Left Behind, the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg safety initiative highlighted by the notion “Go with Friends, Stay with Friends, and Leave with Friends,” was Wilson’s idea stemming from one of the discussions.
The chiefs are dedicated to deepening community engagement. Along with town-gown meeting involvement, the chiefs meet together with Virginia Tech athletic teams, fraternities, and sororities at the start of each academic year to gain feedback and listen to concerns. They also meet with parents and community members on an ongoing basis.
The close cooperation between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg Police is a microcosm, representative of the strong alliance between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg as a whole.
A 2019 Princeton Review ranking listed Virginia Tech as #2 in the Town-Gown Relations are Great category. Virginia Tech’s continued recognition in the category is a testament to the planning facilitated by the town-gown committee, consisting of Virginia Tech and Blacksburg leaders.
The committee is co-chaired by Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok and Blacksburg Deputy Town Manager Steven Ross, who have partnered together for nearly 10 years in facilitating town-gown discourse.
While the group meets monthly to discuss community issues, the cornerstone of their efforts are six town-gown gatherings each academic year on a range of significant topics. The discussions are open to all community members. Student voices are also a key component, with members of the Virginia Tech Student Life Council participating.
“The town-gown meetings are a key symbol of the rich partnership between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. They continue to serve as a meaningful platform for problem-solving and discussion,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs.
Feedback generated from the meetings will be vital in implementation of the 2018 Campus Master Plan and President Tim Sands’ Beyond Boundaries strategic university vision. Points of intersection between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are accentuated throughout both blueprints guiding Virginia Tech’s future.
The growth of university facilities proposed will require close collaboration between Virginia Tech and Blacksburg in areas like infrastructure, public safety, transportation, and more.
“As we look to the future, collaboration between Blacksburg and Virginia Tech will be at the heart of the exciting growth and evolution set to take place here,” Ross said.
Two 2018-19 town-gown gatherings remain:
- March 21, 6 p.m.: 21st Century Transportation and Emerging Plans. Location: Ambler Johnston Residence Hall Great Room, 700 Washington Street.
- April 18, 6 p.m.: Working Together: Blacksburg and Virginia Tech Senior Leaders Talk. Location: Ambler Johnston Residence Hall Great Room, 700 Washington Street.
The meetings are open to all university and town members.