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Lessons in campus security

03 July 2019

Julie Barker examines the huge task of implementing and maintaining good security across university sites and how collaboration with local police and other bodies and organisations can play a fundamental role in success

Within the facilities arena, the spotlight remains on security across the university campus and ensuring the safety of students, staff, visitors and stakeholders across residence and academia, as well as the broader general-purpose facilities that make up a university campus.

We need to remember that most universities are the size of a small town!  And, in a town, you would expect to see a police presence with ‘feet on the street’ and therefore, why would a university be any different?  

The majority of universities do have strong collaborative relationships with the local police. However, it is also fair to say that some universities are still working hard to find the right solution for this very key aspect of their site management.

Accessible, friendly and visible is what a university’ security function should look like, whilst being highly effective and flexible to the needs of a complex campus’ site. Everyone on site has a responsibility to be approachable, diligent and aware.

There are numerous options to consider when thinking about campus security, two commonly used functions are static security and mobile security, this – with CCTV monitoring – forms the basis of basic campus security provision. And, one then has to consider campus location, the role of each building, single sites versus multi-sites across an estate portfolio that can potentially spread across a hundred-plus buildings, or more. Added elements such as ‘day’ or ‘night’ have to be factored into thinking too.

Working together

Collaboration with the local police is critical to success regardless of any private, or in-house security arrangements on campus, especially where you have a City-centre location and multiple buildings. And, it’s not just the police response teams, neighbourhood response teams and contract security teams need to work seamlessly together with campus security teams.

Depending on location, size and risk assessments, stab vests and body worn cameras are increasingly being seen as part of standard uniform on campus, together with dedicated patrol vehicles.  This kind of approach is based on models that are successful in the US and Canada where there are specialist teams uniformed with special powers in dedicated vehicles almost acting as a campus police service.

Working with local police services allows for swift input and access to highly qualified trained individuals. In addition police are also able to access information and other services that are available. Collaboration is not just about collaborating with local police forces and statutory bodies but also working with organisations like the Student Union and Student Societies. In all of this we should also not forget our neighbours, they could be local businesses or could be local families who are potentially impacted by students on, or off, campus.

There are a number of collaborative groups and committees that have been established within local authority areas such as night-time economy groups, crime prevention groups, Local Action Teams (LATS) and PREVENT groups. All these groups offer important opportunities for campus team involvement. It is important that university personnel have an established place and voice in these groups.

City centre challenges

The challenges of city-centre will be evident to all in that some of the issues and incidents that occur, may be down to the public and not necessarily students themselves, hence the need for fast response and flexibility on both sides. We should also recognise the value of good links, collaboration and communication when students or visitors are victims of crime. Another minor complication regarding communication is that some university campuses cross county lines or have more than one police jurisdiction which adds to complexities and challenges in communication.   

There are solutions – a number of universities have formal partnerships with local police forces, take University of Brighton for example, where a dedicated police officer was appointed who was able to communicate effectively with the three regional police areas that collectively cover the site’s assets. Indeed, some areas of the UK, police and businesses have collaborated with private security companies for those companies to provide support in city centre coverage.  

And whilst it should be noted that those private security teams can be awarded additional powers, there are limitations and they do not have the same powers as a warranted police officer.

Embrace technology

We mustn’t forget the growing importance and relevance of technology into campus security as progression, investment and technological advancement continues.    Increasingly, we are seeing new design sites accommodating technology into their new builds and a morphing of architecture with security needs at embryonic early development stage. Not just through access control technology, CCTV, lighting but also fenestration design and materials. 

The use of technology is invaluable when it comes to building asset security and access to buildings, and there are a number of applications out there that go further to alert student bodies, or groups, to particular issues or risks in the area given the size of some of our campuses’ estates.

We always recommend that CUBO members embrace these opportunities. Even some single site campuses are geographically large, and lighting and geography can be perceived as a risk when walking home across campus.  Visibility of security staff is key as is CCTV coverage across all vulnerable areas and at all access to buildings.

CCTV also acts as a deterrent – even if it is a dummy camera it could stop potential intruders, as not only has a university got people and buildings to protect, but there is also the question as to how to keep equipment and property secure.

Julie Barker is former chair of TUCO and director of accommodation and hospitality at Brighton University. She is currently board director of CUBO (College and University Business Officers), and founder of Julie Barker Consultants.