Student super sleuths are springing into action on university campuses around the world in an attempt to combat crime. Last month Southampton University hosted the first international congress on campus security, supported by the Association of University Chief Security Officers, which included presentations from South Africa, Europe and the United States.
Southampton itself has pioneered a "Crimestoppers" scheme on its sites, which relies on student support. The scheme enables students to pass on information anonymously to the police. It is the first UK college with its own version of such a scheme, which spread to this country from the US. Police officer Larry Wieda, who set up the US "scholastic" Crimestoppers programme in 1983, said of students: "They don't lurk in the dark with magnifying glasses but they are some of the best private eyes in the business."
One area needing increased vigilance is the vulnerability of computer memory chips, according to Anthony Dagger of City Security Holdings Ltd. Ounce for ounce, the chips' value exceeds that of gold or cocaine and criminals did not have logistical problems of stealing bulky computers. He said departments often spend many thousands of pounds on computing facilities without much consideration for security, but they should earmark up to two per cent of their budget for security.
Campus security is a problem worldwide, but some of the most profound difficulties are in South Africa where crime levels are rising.
In an innovative move, the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched the Student Protection Service, a student wing of the campus security unit, in a bid to create a partnership between the student community and the security professionals.
William Rex of UCT's equal opportunities research project said in the days of apartheid, it was common for the riot police and army to quell student protests, with varying levels of co-operation from campus security units. Campus security was still viewed with suspicion by some.