Campus police confirmed an increase in unmarked University of Richmond Police Department (URPD) vehicles on campus after students started noticing the shift.
“Based on our type of workload, we have shifted some of our traditional marked units to plain white vehicles,” David McCoy, chief of police, said in an email interview. “The look of a police vehicle should reflect the needs of the community."
McCoy said that URPD jurisdiction does not extend off campus, so the new vehicles are not designed specifically to monitor off-campus events.
URPD has a working relationship with local law enforcement in Richmond city and Henrico County, who provide a quality service to students residing off campus whenever they are called, he said.
Although the new white vehicles are not marked with traditional URPD signage, they retain an interior light package that, if deployed, makes clear that they are police vehicles.
"I like white because just about everybody recognizes it is a police car anyway, and if I needed to add a marking package, it is an easy transition," McCoy said.
Monty Thornburn, RC' 20, agreed.
“I’ve heard people say there is a significant police presence that makes them uncomfortable," Thorburn said. "So it may be that the URPD has transitioned to unmarked vehicles so as to make their presence feel less threatening.”
Although he said he'd heard people express concerns about overt police presence, Thornburn said that he hadn't noticed a significant increase in these white vehicles.
A URPD officer who asked not to be named by The Collegian explained why the department might use unmarked vehicles, describing some of the costs associated with marking the cars.
"The printing package for each vehicle, which has to be done off campus, costs between $2,500 and $2,800 per vehicle, which means that every vehicle we leave unmarked saves the University — and, by extension, the students — a couple thousand dollars," the officer said.
Students might think that the unmarked vehicles are used to set speed traps, but the officer said the department hasn't dealt with as many moving violations as some other campuses.
"Speeding isn’t as big an issue on this campus as it is at VCU, so the notion that our unmarked vehicles are setting speed traps isn’t really accurate,” he said.
Regardless of how they're being used, some students still have concerns about what "community needs" are best being served by these unmarked cars.
"I'm not sure of any ways in which an unmarked vehicle would accomplish a goal that a marked vehicle could not," Alex Finley, RC' 21, said. "If the purpose of the police on campus is to maintain order and keep people safe, I think it would be better for them to be recognizable."
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