‘We’re here for you year-round’
By Tímea Koppándi and Tarini Tiwari
The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with numerous protests across the summer and Autumn Term, have brought to attention the role Campus Security plays in protecting students at the University. InQuire Media sat down with Head of Campus Security, Mark Arnold, in order to understand better how they enforce safety measures on campus and how students can better benefit from their services.
Image courtesy of Mark Arnold
TK: Could you tell us more about how Campus Security functions?
MA: We cover the Canterbury and Medway campus on a 24/7/365 basis. We’ve got a control room in Canterbury, and we’ve got security cover at both of the campuses. Canterbury has 4 teams and they work a 4-on and 4-off shift pattern. There is a supervisor or a duty manager present at all times. In Medway we have one supervisor and a team of six. We work closely with all of the different security organizations as they are brought onto the campus. What we’re doing with our new Code of Conduct and Charter, is making certain that they live up to the same aspirations that we’ve got. Another thing that we’ve been working on with Student Support and Wellbeing is the introduction of three Community Support Officers, which I think is really exciting. It’s a way that these officers will focus on, in term time, student mental health and wellbeing type issues. They’ll be working night duty during term time to give a bit more support. They’ll still be doing security work as well, but in the first instance, their key priority is the wellbeing of the students.
TT: House parties have been happening during the pandemic, and we were wondering if there is a way to prevent them or what’s the procedure in regards to dealing with them?
MA: If we find out about parties, most of them we are informed of by other students as they turn into noise complaints firstly, then as a breach of COVID-19 guidelines, and what we can’t do then is ignore a complaint from a student, because otherwise we’re not doing our job. In order to prevent them, we’re back down to trying to explain and educate people about the increased risks. Now we had a party in Woolf, a couple of weekends ago, where there were close to 100 people in the kitchen area. Now if I take COVID-19 out of the equation, if there was a sudden fire alarm or a panic, we’ve all seen fairly horrendous examples when someone trips over the doorway and then you get crush injuries, people can’t get out, they panic and it gets worse, and then if there’s a proper fire there, if you’ve got that number of people in a party, it’s a real health and safety risk. It’s about trying to explain to people that, yes, it is against COVID-19 guidelines, but it’s also to do with their own health and safety. If there is a problem in that flat and you try and get 100 people out in a hurry, it can be disastrous with injuries or loss of life.
TK: Whether students are following or breaking COVID -19 guidelines, what’s Campus Security allowed to do?
MA: We’ve always tried to go down the four E’s route, which is in the first instance engage, try and explain and then educate. It’s fair to say that a lot of the COVID-19 guidance has changed as the pandemic has gone along and what we’ve had to do is follow the guidance of the University, the NHS and the government, to try to explain to students what you may have done little while ago you can’t do now. If you look at the numbers issue - about who can form a bubble - some of it can be quite complicated, which is why invariably we’ve gone down the initial three E’s. However, we have been getting a number of complaints from members of the public who’ve been observing what’s been going on campus, and we’ve had complaints from other students about fellow students not necessarily observing the COVID-19 guidance, and that’s understandable. Therefore what we had to do is, and I use the enforcement word, but it’s really with a small ‘e’ because what we try to do is stop the gatherings or the excess numbers or whatever the breaches are. If there are consistent breaches, or where people constantly ignore us telling them they shouldn’t meet, then what we’ve been instructed to do by universities, is to pass that onto the University Student Misconduct Office. They will then look at what evidence and information we’ve provided and they will then make a decision if there is to be further enforcement. We’re really sympathetic to the situations students find themselves in, but we’ve also got to be mindful of the chances of increasing the spread of COVID-19. In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we concentrated on engagement, explaining and educating with enforcement being a last resort. We discussed this with the students to try and get them to understand and by and large, the vast majority of students did get it. However with the increase in COVID-19 related infections, hospital admissions and deaths, the Government expectations on the Police to actively intervene to enforce COVID-19 guidance has increased. The University takes its responsibility seriously to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Campus Security will now contact the Police if there are deliberate, repeat, serious or dangerous COVID-19 breaches.
TT: What’s campus security’s involvement when it comes to organising demonstrations?
MA: I always start from a legal perspective. Is it lawful, and then is it safe? Because if it’s not lawful or safe then it comes with some consequences. I firmly believe in the right to protest. We are not here to stop protests and I’ll be very clear about that. This is a democratic society. There is freedom of speech. A lot of those are very important tasks here in the UK. What I always try and do, is meet and discuss with event organizers to understand what it is that they’re trying to achieve, and I will give them advice on how to achieve that event in a lawful and safe way. What I then try and do is give them a way that they can actually do that. What I now get is a number of approaches by students directly to ask for advice, because they are thinking of having a protest. I am very free to give my advice, and a lot of that can sometimes mean that I have to liaise with other people, especially when it’s off campus because it has an effect on the wider public. Recently I met with the Black Lives Matter group earlier on this summer and gave them advice. I’ve met variously with the Nigerian society and others who were protesting about what was going on back in Nigeria. I have spoken to the Polish Society, and even spoke to the UCU about their industrial dispute, and a lot of that is not to stop it, but work in conjunction with them.
TK: Something that was an issue before COVID-19 and is still persisting is students being followed and harassed. What’s the protocol when dealing with such cases?
MA: Just to reassure everyone, the actual levels are very low and I’d like to make that very clear in the first instance, but that doesn’t mean that we’re complacent. If anyone feels uncomfortable or suspicious of someone, the first thing they should do, providing it’s not an emergency, is contact Campus Security if they are on campus. If they can’t do so, they should activate SafeZone. Their location will come up in the geofenced area and if we don’t get a reply almost immediately from the phone number we’ve got for you, then we’re going to come and find you and understand what’s going on. The protocol is that if you’re involved in an incident, then report it immediately because it’s much easier to get witnesses, evidence and people in the area. If it's very serious we need to get the police involved. They need to get there, and the whole idea is we stand a much better chance of gaining evidence, getting hold of the people responsible, and stop it happening to someone else. I understand that some people will be nervous about contacting Campus Security or the police, I just like to reassure them we’re there to support and help the students and staff. We won’t make any judgements about what you’re doing, we would much rather get there and find out it was nothing, and it was fairly trivial then you thinking: I am not going to bother you, because it’s trivial. Because to us, we’re paid to be here to make the place safe and secure. If it is reported to us, then you know that there is confidentiality on our part. Depending what it is we would get other elements of student support involved and they would then take it over. So if there are concerns about confidentiality or having to disclose personal matters, then that can be passed onto Student Support and Wellbeing and they can deal with it.
Please be reassured, contact us as soon as possible, if you see something that looks suspicious or you feel uncomfortable about it, then call it in. If it’s an emergency, then dial 999, ask for the police.
TT: In regards to the incidents on Eliot footpath, should the students follow the same procedure that you’ve talked about before?
MA: We take all reports seriously. Last week I had a walk with a Sabbatical officer down there. I was back there today, and we’re going to make some environmental adjustments, so we’re going to clean away some of the undergrowth. We’re going to potentially swap the paths over so that the pedestrian path is on the outside as you go down, because it’s further away from the wooded area and in places we’re going to be putting up some fencing as well, and the fencing just makes it more difficult for anyone to get over. As far as lighting goes, we’re going to make a couple of adjustments to some lights and we will also put another camera down Elliot footpath. If anyone is on Elliot Footpath and they feel uncomfortable, they can always contact Campus Security for the walking taxi service, which operates throughout the year, and it doesn’t have to be at night-time. So, if someone wants to have a walking taxi service early in the morning or late afternoon, if we’re available we’ll send someone. Another way is activating SafeZone and then we can monitor them as they go up and down the footpath. When they’ve gotten to where they needed to go, they can phone us up and say “I’ve arrived” and check out. If, all of a sudden, it stops and we’re monitoring, then we’ll actually phone up and check with the student, if there is something wrong we will send someone urgently. I would just stress we’ve had one incident there, it must be very worrying for the student involved and the student community, but the reassurance is, that we had regular patrols there anyway — we have increased that since that time and will be keeping them going for the foreseeable future. This also links in with KU President Joshua Frost’s project about the Connected Routes Project and about how we’re going to be doing that. Some of the work we’re going to do now would’ve been done by the connected routes work stream anyway. I would encourage students: stick to the main Eliot Footpath, there is CCTV, there is patrolling, and more people are liable to be walking up and down there than if you were going down one of these paths that are tangential to a shortcut.
TK: Earlier this term, there have been several incidents of fireworks going off on campus. Is there any information as to why this is happening and what are they also doing to combat it?
MA: Every year — it’s my third year — round about late October to early November, there are fireworks on campus. Unfortunately, some of the use of fireworks hasn’t been particularly sociable in the way they’ve been let off. It’s been very noisy, and we have had complaints from Kent students and other local property owners about the level of fireworks. Now, if some people want to use them in an antisocial way, then that does attract campus security and the police were more involved as some people were firing rockets at buildings. If we can identify who it is, then it is given to the Student Misconduct team to look at. My encouragement with every student is: we’re not here to be killjoys. We want you to have a very good experience here at this university. What we will try and do is stop people using fireworks anti-socially/criminally, but a lot of it is down by Park Wood or Turing, and Park Wood is quite a large area of people, and this year certainly it’s been a bit of a fun and game for the students, letting it off and then running away from Campus Security. What I wouldn’t want is for the students to have an accident and then injure themselves by using fireworks inappropriately or incorrectly.
TT: What can students do to make it more efficient when reporting an incident?
MA: For anything like that, the first thing is please report it as soon as possible. I’ve got personal experience, a little while ago outside of the campus I was with my wife and we saw a pretty nasty criminal incident going on. The first thing was to call it in to the police and the second was to film it on your camera. If you see something, gather evidence — whatever that is. You can be an active bystander just by your presence, and sometimes that can or will dissuade people from doing what they’re doing to someone else. When it comes to reporting anything, remain calm, objective and get information and evidence about what’s going on. So, if there’s something on campus that you see, by all means contact us. We will talk you through when you call what it is we’re after. A personal description is very useful, things like: age, height, weight, size, colour of skin, hair, glasses, clothing, anything that’s identifiable. If it’s a car, then of course car registration helps. Try to get as much information as you can and then report it as soon as you can, because we will look at it very closely.
TK: If students have reported something, what’s the process of following up with them after that?
MA: Following up is really important and it depends upon what it is. A lot of the time we pass the information onto Student Support and Wellbeing, the Colleges and Community Life team or the Student Misconduct team. Therefore, any follow-up to them will have to come from [these teams]. We are not always updated on the outcome as there might be confidentiality issues. If it’s anything that we’ve dealt with, by all means students can contact us to ask for a follow-up, and what we will try and do is always give them that. If we can’t, we’ll either find out for them or signpost them and they can always talk to myself or my deputy if they are unhappy with the response. A lot of what Campus Security wants to be is a learning team here, and if we can improve upon our service to students and staff, then we need to get comments, compliments and complaints so that we can do that. If you want to follow up on something please do. Recently I dealt with a complaint by two students, it wasn’t involving Campus Security but I then gave them a personal follow-up. When handling a case in its entirety, I would expect that we would give feedback or a follow-up to students as a part of that. If it’s given to another department obviously, some of the time that will have to come from them because they’ll have the most up-to-date knowledge.
TT: In cases where somebody who doesn’t speak English that well is reporting an incident, is there a way of accommodating them or does that present a problem?
MA: Well, this has been really interesting because I’ve discussed it with my team and it hasn’t been a problem so far. What I’ve been told is, generally, we’ve always managed to understand what the issue is, but what we’re now going to do is explore a sort of telephone interpreter service so that if there was a really difficult situation, we would at least then have an option where we can look at phoning someone up on the telephone and saying “Can you talk to the person and try and understand what the issue is?” That is something we’re going to do as an active result of this chat with InQuire and it’s something I’ll have to come back to you on. I think that’s part of the learning that I’m trying to suggest that we’re doing with yourselves, and just because it hasn’t been a problem so far doesn’t mean it won’t be one in the future.
TK: We’d like to know if you have a message for students?
MA: Yes! Well, we are here to make sure that you enjoy student life, that you are able to study well and that you come out of it with a great education so that you can go forth with the rest of your life. Please come talk to us — if you’ve got any issues, let us know and we’ll try and resolve them. I would encourage people to just have a chat with campus security when they see them and if you’ve got any issues, give us a call: we’re here 24/7/365. And a bit like when I did the nativity blog that’s gone up online, ‘Campus Security isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for the whole year’. I know it sounds cheesy, but in actual fact it’s true, isn’t it? We are here for you year-round. Probably about 40% of our time is actually doing security, all the other time is to do with mental health, wellbeing, checking on how the students are, getting students into their rooms; there’s a whole lot of other things that campus security does apart from security.