Should an ivory tower turn fortress?

March 3, 2000

University life can give a false sense of security - drug abuse, vandalism and theft are constant worries. Claire Sanders reports on campus policing

One day last month Alan Naylor, head of security at Napier University, found himself with a security firm, a professor and Pounds 100,000 worth of equipment on a bridge outside Edinburgh.

He was seeking advice on how best to protect the professor's equipment. This consisted of electronic censors, left at regular intervals across the bridge, to test the impact of heavy trucks.

This is not Mr Naylor's only headache. "As I talk to you I am looking at our electronic engineering department," he says. "The people in there are putting more and more stuff on smaller and smaller chips - it is my job to ensure that all their very expensive equipment is safe. And it is my job to ensure that their ideas, or intellectual property, are safe."

Like all heads of security, Mr Naylor has to match security and access needs. "We have two libraries that, thanks to an endowment, are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to anyone," he says. "And I mean members of the public as well as students."

Concern about the changing nature of campus security and how universities are managing that change has prompted the Higher Education Funding Council for England to undertake a value-for-money study of security. "We have just finished a study of facilities management at universities," says John Rushforth, Hefce's chief auditor.

"The panel overseeing the study felt that a number of areas needed further attention. Security was top of that list."

Hefce auditors will visit universities and colleges, look at best practice and devise performance measures. The study will be published at the end of the year.

Last year two Strathclyde police sergeants carried out the first national survey of campus security. Sponsored by the Home Office, it is called Policing the Campus: Providing a Safe and Secure Environment.

It argues: "The commercial reality for many (higher education institutions) to continually increase their student numbers may well shift an emphasis toward the creation of a safe and secure campus in order to attract student applicants .... Crime prevention and community safety, which for many HEIs is at present a peripheral concern, is likely to become a legitimate and core issue."

Graham Ballantyne, security manager at Aberdeen University, agrees: "University campuses have a reputation for being less safe than other areas and one day a university could face litigation."

In the United States, high-profile civil litigation has already focused minds. In 1988 the state of Pennsylvania passed the first campus crime legislation Right to Know Law as a result of a campaign by parents of a student who had been raped and murdered at Lehigh University in 1986. In 1990 Congress passed the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act, which requires management to make public security policies and crime data.

Security at American universities is frequently carried out by "university police" - sworn uniformed officers with considerable police powers, a large number of whom routinely carry firearms.

In Policing the Campus, sergeants Kenneth Campbell and Charles Bryceland open the debate on what powers British security officers should have. The authors sent a questionnaire to 180 higher education institutions and 52 police forces.

They received 157 responses from higher education and 49 from the police. One of the questions asked was whether respondents believed "that increased 'policing' powers for security officers, provided by an Act of Parliament, would improve their ability to reduce and manage crime in HEIs".

Forty-three per cent of respondents said yes. The authors themselves do not advocate this route, arguing instead that proposals to regulate the private security industry, currently in the form of a white paper, should be extended to cover in-house security personnel as well.

Policing the Campus makes a number of recommendations, most of them under the heading "communication".

The authors found "a complete lack of structure to the communication links that exist between the HEIs and the police". They propose that universities produce an annual report of reported crime and incidents to inform students, staff and prospective students and their parents.

While the US may be going down this path, universities in this country are extremely reluctant to do so. The Association of University Chief Security Officers, set up about ten years ago to share information and promote best practice, does collect crime and incident figures from all universities annually. However, the figures are not made public.

Policing the Campus contains information on campus crime. The figures in the above table show the different crimes and incidents reported for rural and urban universities in 1996. The authors put the relatively high percentages at rural universities down to better reporting.

The authors also compare crime as reported by the police and universities. These figures were available for 44 universities. The overall totals show that the police recorded 31 per cent fewer crimes than universities and colleges in 1995 and 32 per cent fewer in 1996.

The most outstanding difference is for criminal damage and vandalism: "Security managers indicated ... that incidents of criminal damage/vandalism are often dealt with in-house ... It has to be appreciated that persons committing crime on campus may also be responsible for crime in the surrounding geographical area and vice versa."

The report identifies alcohol and drug abuse as serious problems. In response to the question: "How confident are you that the misuse of drugs is prevented on your campus", only 16 per cent of respondents expressed any degree of confidence at all. One security officer commented: "I do not think that the true figures surface. The problem is that these institutions are terrified of any adverse publicity."

The questionnaire also asked: "How confident are you that drunkenness is controlled on your campus". Only 28 per cent of respondents expressed any confidence. The report recommends more police involvement in a preventative approach to the abuse of drugs and alcohol both on and off campus.

It also argues that security officers suffer from a lack of status.

This summer Bernadette Duncan, operations manager at City University, will take over as chair of AUCSO. One of her first priorities is to improve the training of security personnel, and thereby their status.

"We want to get a nationally recognised standard for all university security officers building on NVQs and SVQs and leading to degree level," she says.

Mr Naylor has been running training courses in this area for years. "Security personnel need to understand the law, to keep up with new technology and to be sensitive to the balance between security and access in universities."

It is all too easy for universities to err on one side or the other.

Leeds Metropolitan University was recently featured in the TV documentary series Cutting Edge and criticised for its use of covert surveillance equipment on staff. The university insists it acted within the law.

Kent University found itself picketed by students last term after it proposed changes to the portering system. The students saw the situation in bleak terms:

"The porters ... have frequently saved lives and prevented dangerous situations getting out of control." The university went ahead with its changes, insisting that safety would not be compromised.

Last month the Transport and General Workers Union publicised a number of violent attacks on its members on campuses. Chris Kauffman, national secretary of the public services trade group, is to meet Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, to discuss what can be done.

He argues that the response of universities is not uniform and suggests the introduction of comprehensive crime prevention policies: "These would include awareness training for staff, improved lighting on campuses, self-defence classes and attack alarms."

It has been estimated that the private security industry in Britain employs more than 300,000 people compared with 145,000 in the police service. Policing the Campus found that 11 per cent of universities employed a private security firm and 31 per cent employed a mix of private and in-house.

"We support greater regulation of the security industry generally," says Ms Duncan. "Hefce's value-for-money study will give those of us in universities some useful pointers."


Erez Sharoni moved from the Israeli El-Al airline to become head of security for the University of Hertfordshire in 1996.

He describes his job as "challenging". "When you are working with people who are very security minded you just have to explain the how -- not the why," he says. "Here I have to do both."

When he joined, the university had just carried out a major assessment of its security and he was brought in to "build it up from scratch". Now the security at Hertfordshire is run by a limited company, Uni-

secure, which has a turnover of more than Pounds 1 million a year. The university, and Mr Sharoni, hope to market security services to commercial companies -- ploughing the profits back into the university. Vice-chancellor Neil Buxton is a director.

"To do this job effectively you need support from the top," says Mr Sharoni.

He has a lot to protect. He reluctantly reveals that the university does undertake a small number of experiments on animals. He also needs to protect computers and projectors, valued at between Pounds 2,000 and Pounds 10,000 a time. And, of course, he needs to protect the 18,000 students and 2,000 members of staff.

He has to do all this for a number of sites.

The main campus at Hatfield is now surrounded by a fence and there are only a few clearly marked entrance points. The two other campuses in Watford and Hertford will move to a new Pounds 100 million site on the old British Aerospace land at Hatfield by autumn 2003.

The university also has four other buildings, in built-up areas, and an observatory "in the middle of nowhere". "The observatory is used heavily at night so security there is crucial," says Mr Sharoni.

The new site offers Mr Sharoni the opportunity to "design out crime". "You have to start with the user. Who is going to use the site and why?"

He insists that security measures are only effective if the community they serve has a sense of ownership.

In keeping with this approach Mr Sharoni believes it is crucial to have good communications with the police, staff and students.

A police liaison committee meets every three months and is attended by students. As well as presenting an incident report every month to the vice- chancellor, Mr Sharoni also compiles an incident report for the police.

"If there has been a crime in an area near one of our buildings the police tell us," he says. "We have to share information."

He is not so keen on releasing this information to the public.

Unisecure employs about 65 people, five of them women. In security this is quite a good percentage but Mr Sharoni wants to improve it. "Women are a vital part of any security team," he says. "For some female students and members of staff they are very reassuring."

All Unisecure employees are carefully vetted. They are not graded on the university scales, but paid a wage that is competitive locally. They do get many of the benefits of university staff.

Staff are given three days' training, in the classroom and then mentored on site for ten shifts.

Unisecure also uses the university's courses -- such as its line management course - to provide further training. Staff also need regular updating on the equipment and technology.

Entering the control room it is easy to see why. The university makes extensive use of CCTV. Mick Collins, security supervisor on duty, explains that at night the security officer will focus on the screens where no activity is expected. "The minute something moves you see it," he says.

The tapes are stored in a locked room for 28 days and then wiped. Only Mr Sharoni has access to covert camera equipment, which he has used on a few occasions. "But we only use it when called on to do so by a hall of residence, or any other part of the university, that has a particular problem," he says.

Access to much of the campus is by swipe card.

The Pounds 16 million learning resource centre is open 24 hours a day to all students, staff and members of the public. Students and staff gain access with their cards while members of the public have to register. But enter the multimedia studio or the research centre, for example, and only certain swipe cards work.

For those making their way home to halls of residence, all the paths are well lit and there are emergency phones. The university has a quad bike that can get to any part of the campus in two minutes.

Mr Sharoni believes that Hertfordshire has the right level of security.

But he does talk wistfully of American campuses that have their own armed police forces, even their own cells.

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