RICHMOND, Va. – As Virginia Commonwealth University students move in for start of a new academic year, administrators are prioritizing safety after a spike in crime near the Monroe Park Campus this summer.
Gunfire erupted near VCU's Siegel Center in July followed by a triple shooting on West Broad Street and then a robbery in Monroe Park.
The crimes happened while many students were off for the summer.
But now students like Leoul Bekele are moving in. Bekele is one of the record 4,200 freshman enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I'm looking forward to the best four years of my life here,” Bekele said.
University officials said safety was key because VCU sits in an urban area where the homicide rate is reportedly on the rise.
"We want to make sure that they feel comfortable, they feel safe,” said Dr. Reuben Rodriguez, Assoc. Vice Provost, VCU Dean of Students.
When asked if the university was concerned about the city's high murder rate, Rodriguez said VCU and the areas that surround it are very safe.
"We've got a great police force,” Rodriguez said. “Students can see police officers, security officers 24-7.”
Rodriguez said students go through a week-long orientation on safety measures and precautions.
"We teach them how to be good bystanders," Rodriguez said. "Also, because we want them to take accountability not only for themselves, but also for one another.”
Students also have 24-hour access to campus phones for emergency calls and they can download the Live Safe App on their smartphones. The app alerts police when a tip comes in so they can respond quickly.
"Everybody has a phone. They can feel like they have security in their pocket, And anytime they see something, they can say something,” Rodriguez said.
That was welcome advice for students like Bekele, who are now in a new environment.
"You got to be smart," Bekele said. "You got to know where you are. You have to be aware of your surroundings.”