A sense of security

11th November 1994 at 00:00
Anne Nicholls on how increased crime on campus has forced colleges to develop security systems. An intruder is spotted inside a college behaving suspiciously and a man is seen outside another school enticing young children into his car by offering them sweets. Within 30 seconds, a call is put through to a central bureau and a message is simultaneously transmitted to 75 educational premises in the borough, warning of troublemakers in the area.

Not just an idea dreamed up by the local crime stoppers, but a successful crime prevention scheme in the London borough of Harrow. The message pagers went off five times in its first two weeks of operation in September this year - proof of the need for more surveillance.

The Harrow experiment is an example of the benefits of collaboration between schools and colleges to combat growing security problems. Harrow's colleges were suffering thefts and occasional problems with intruders who allegedly came to the college to "meet a friend". So three years ago "College Watch" (an extension of Neighbourhood Watch and School Watch) was started in the three Harrow colleges - Stanmore College (formerly Elm Park), Weald College and Greenhill College - the first scheme of its kind in the country. All three display "College Watch" signs outside and police from the local Crime Prevention Unit regularly visit to talk to students and staff. In addition, a 10-member committee, made up of college staff, students, parents, members of the local residents association and a representative from the local police meets every three months.

Stanmore's vice-principal Dr John Wise says the scheme has made a significant difference to the college's relationships with local residents - "as well as making it a safer place. It has certainly made people more aware about security."

College staff and students all carry identity badges with a bar code giving them access to certain areas, including the library. Future plans are to set up a "crimeline" to allow students to pass on information anonymously to the police.

Harrow is just one example of how schools and colleges are dealing with the growing problem of security. Female students in some residential colleges and university halls of residence have been attacked and equipment theft is common in many educational establishments.

Collaborative work has begun in some areas. The North East Risk Management Group has intensified its activities since a 12-year-old girl was stabbed to death at Hall Garth School in Cleveland. Despite the brutality of that particular crime, the colleges in many ways are more vulnerable than schools because they have a more transient student population, a more scattered campus and are open in the evenings.

"The problems in colleges are two-fold, involving personal safety on the one hand and theft on the other. This can mean anything from ram-raiders to knifings," says Alastair Grindlay, property adviser for the Further Education Funding Council in Greater London and the south-east.

"Contrary to the popular stereotype, the problem areas are not necessarily the inner cities. A 'good' area which has dark access to the college may also suffer from vandals and thieves. One such college, for instance, recently experienced an attack on two female students down a dark drive."

The level of manned security varies considerably; some have alarmed entrances and turnstiles; others are more "relaxed", preferring less obtrusive systems. At Newham Community College in London's East End, a swipe card system, introduced in 1993 for about Pounds 15,000, gives students entry to the library and areas, such as computer suites. The cards all carry photographs so ownership can be checked if one is stolen.

"We prefer the idea of light security rather than a heavy presence," says campus manager Dave Gomer. "The non-uniformed security staff check passes at the door; turnstiles would simply cause bottlenecks."

Nearby Tower Hamlets College, where intruders have come in to pick fights with students, experimented with different kinds of security systems. First, it tried using youth worker-type personnel to check identity cards at the entrance, but it soon became evident they didn't carry enough authority to control troublemakers. Non-uniformed security staff didn't work either because they, too, didn't carry enough authority visually. Finally, a security firm with uniformed staff was employed - a more successful solution.

"Since then we have had virtually no problems at all," says Chris Heaume, assistant principal in charge of student affairs. "The security staff are sensible enough not to set up confrontations and are sensitive enough to deal with people politely; we think we have finally got the balance right."

There are also few thefts. Most exit doors have alarms, computer rooms have their own locking systems and there are areas which are only accessible to staff through security doors which operate through punching number codes on to a panel.

Other colleges find that alarms do deter intruders. Manchester College of Arts and Technology admits that security is a problem - computers have been stolen during daylight. Female reception staff have also complained about harassment during the evenings. One site, two miles from the city centre in the heart of a demolition and redevelopment area, is in a particularly exposed position and needs adequate security.

All staff (including the principal) wear name badges with a photograph and at any sniff of trouble the police are called. But the college has a unique solution to deter thieves and vandals. Students taking a course leading to National Vocational Qualifications (offered by City and Guilds with the Security Industry Training Organisation) in intruder alarms have installed systems in many of the workshops to satisfy requirements for on-the-job assessment.

The system was tested shortly after installation when the alarm went off scaring an intruder off the premises, and saving the theft of several valuable tools from one of the motor vehicle workshops. Course leader Joe Cierszynski also managed to secure donations of alarms, cable, batteries, lighting and other equipment from security equipment manufacturers which enabled the course to be up-and-running within months and saved expenditure on equipment.

Cost is a major consideration for most colleges. There is no special fund earmarked for security systems - colleges are supposed to finance this out of the FEFC's property repair fund or from savings. Some are using "Hunter" money to purchase burglar alarms, improve lighting or install closed-circuit television.

Skimping on security can be false economy, says Bryan Spain, author of Spons' Building Costs Guide for Educational Establishments. "If you don't secure the buildings and contents, then the college becomes an open highway to anyone who wants to enter."

Most insurance companies will reduce premiums if the insurer has adequate security systems in place and the right system can be an effective deterrent. One teacher training college in the north-west, says Mr Spain, discovered that cars were being stolen from its car park, despite a CCTV camera in the grounds.

The thieves were canny enough to know how to dodge the cameras by waiting until they were out of range. The problem was solved, literally overnight, when a second camera was installed which made it impossible to remain out of sight. No more thefts.

Constable Alan Watson of Harrow's crime prevention unit, suggests the following as an essential comprehensive security system: * Encourage identity badges for teachers and students. Visitors should also wear a visitor's badge.

* Night security lighting should be installed: some to stay on all night and some triggered automatically by movement.

* Closed-circuit television should be installed to cover the perimeter of the building and some corridors.

* Barrier controls in car parks are advisable.

* Turnstiles or security staff at the entrance are also advisable.

* There should be locks on (most) doors and windows, particularly on rooms with valuable equipment.

* Marking property with brightly-coloured indelible fluorescent pens or paint is a deterrent to thieves as it makes the stolen equipment more difficult to sell.

* Training and awareness sessions are important for staff and students.

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