UVA Leaders Address Gun Violence, Public Safety Issues in Virtual Town Hall

March 28, 2023 By Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu

University of Virginia officials emphasized to a virtual town hall audience of UVA community members and parents on Tuesday that they are working in multiple ways to ensure safety on and around Grounds and to find solutions to rising gun violence in the area.

UVA President Jim Ryan was joined by Associate Vice President for Safety and Security and Chief of Police Tim Longo, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis and Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Robyn Hadley at the virtual meeting.

The town hall focused on gun violence and public safety in the wake of recent shootings in the community, and provided information about existing and potential efforts to keep the community safe.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our community,” Ryan told the estimated 800 viewers. “I know this is a concern of many parents as it is a concern of mine.”

Ryan announced the formation of a UVA Community Safety Working Group that will collaborate with community members and officials in Charlottesville and Albemarle on these issues.

“You left the things and people you love the most in the care of the people that are on this screen,” Longo said. “I want to begin my comments this afternoon by impressing upon you how incredibly sensitive I am to that responsibility and how seriously we take that responsibility.”

The region has seen an increase in gun violence in the past six months. In one incident on March 18, a man identified as a contractor for a University food service unit died in a late-night shooting on Elliewood Avenue after an apparent disagreement with someone he knew, Longo said.

Charlottesville police have since arrested and charged a suspect, who has no connection to the University.

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Longo said it is increasingly difficult to determine why local shootings occur, but he added that recent incidents tend not to be random acts of violence but the result of disagreements between individuals.

“Some act of retaliation leads one to commit violence against the other,” Longo said. “We’re trying to pay more attention, to look at the cause, to try to understand better why these events have occurred in the city thus far this year, and try to put an end to them the very best that we possibly can.”

As the University, the city and Albemarle County investigate ways to address the violence, UVA officials said they are taking steps to help the University community stay safe.

The number of Ambassadors – unarmed security personnel who patrol the Grounds and surrounding areas to assist students and augment local police presence – will be increased and their area of patrol widened, officials said. The UVA Police Department also plans to expand off-Grounds patrols.

“We’ve recently expanded the footprint of the Ambassadors to continue down the West Main Street corridor into downtown Charlottesville, and then went to the downtown pedestrian mall,” Longo said. “That will become effective [March 31].”

Officials also recommend the UVA community download safety apps to smartphones, sign up for community and emergency alerts and walk with friends in a buddy system.

“If you’re not using a buddy system and you find yourself alone, Ambassadors are available to do a walking escort,” Davis said. “And really be thoughtful about your surroundings. Safety is a shared responsibility, so if you see something, please say something.”

Hadley said she lives on Grounds and remains cognizant of her surroundings. She also uses a buddy system.

“I’ll let folks know when I’m moving around or going somewhere and I sign up for the text alerts,” she said. “We want to encourage [parents] to encourage your students to download and actually use the Guardian app and also to ask the Ambassadors for help.”

Officials emphasized signing up for UVA Alerts, which provide timely information regarding incidents and imminent threats. The alerts are available to anyone. Members of the public can opt-in to receive UVA text alerts; see uvaemergency.virginia.edu/uva-alerts/uva-alerts-public.

Officials also recommend downloading the Rave Guardian mobile safety app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. The application is available free to anyone with a UVA email address. Students may also ask an Ambassador to walk them home as part of the Safe Walk program; they need only approach an Ambassador or drop by the Public Safety Substation on the Corner to ask. Students can also call 434-984-7622, extension 406 to request Safe Walk.

UVA’s Public Safety Department has conducted active attacker prevention, response, and notification training for more than 1,000 members of the University community. The training is free to students, faculty and staff.

UVA also offers several late-night transportation options for students, including Parking and Transportation's Night Pilot buses, OnDemand vans and Charge-a-Ride with Yellow Cab.

“The safety of this community – there is nothing more important in our jobs and there’s no higher priority,” Ryan said. “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.”

Media Contact

Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications