Can you ‘design out’ campus crime?

Kingston University in south-west London is working with its local police force to achieve an open and safe campus both within its boundaries and in surrounding residential streets, explains Guy Ferguson

Designing a university building that keeps students and staff safe while encouraging members of the public to share its library, cafés and meeting rooms is a significant challenge.

But this is what has been achieved with Kingston University’s Town House – a campus gateway building – which shares its facilities with the local community as well as students.

Through its revolving front door is a spacious foyer, a covered auditorium and an 80-seat theatre. On the first floor are three dance studios. The library extends from the second to the fourth floor. Plus, there are cafés on the ground and fifth floors and a number of group rooms on the second and third floors. With public availability to all floors, security was always going to be critical.

Working to design out crime

The Metropolitan Police’s specialist team of designing out crime officers (DOCOs) were involved with the Town House development at the concept and design stages from January 2015. This was eight months before planning permission was granted and two years before building commenced. Advanced planning was vital, especially as electrical services were cast into the concrete skeleton of the building prior to arriving on site.

The DOCOs were working to crime-prevention standards set by PCPI flagship initiative, Secured by Design (SBD), which sets police standards for a building’s physical security, such as doors, windows and locks. This involves security products not only being rigorously tested but also fully certificated by an independent, third-party certification body accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to ensure that products continue to maintain their security standards.

The DOCOs were also incorporating designing out crime principles into the surrounding environment. This includes maximising natural surveillance, limiting excessive through movement and creating defensible space to deter opportunist criminals and reduce crime.

Over the following four years, the DOCOs worked on both the physical security and layout and landscaping with a team of security consultants, the university’s security and faculty teams, Grafton Architects and contractor Willmott Dixon – all parties committed to delivering on the university’s ethos of being part of the community as well as meeting the needs of students.

The Town House opened in January 2020, although it had to close within three months due to Covid-19 restrictions. It reopened in September on a reduced capacity basis.

A wide range of security measures

All the security and access requirements of every door on every floor, the siting of more than 100 CCTV cameras, cycle parking, boundary treatments and many other security aspects were all considered to allow for use during the day and into the evening. Clear sightlines were important too, especially around the circular front welcome desk and on the library floors where shelving units were restricted to four tiers to maximise surveillance.

External safety and security considerations included access to stairwells and swipe card cycle storage. The landscaping at the front of the building created clear lines of vision, cycle routes and sufficient pavement width to allow for large numbers of students to arrive and leave at the same time.

All the security measures are linked to a 24/7 security control room.

Most of the security products in the Town House achieved Police Preferred Specification standards and many were supplied by SBD member companies.

The Metropolitan Police perspective

Security walk-throughs were used to evaluate the access requirements of every door and the position of every CCTV camera. “The security was under review constantly and there was a readiness to address issues that weren’t obvious from the site plans,” says Pat Simcox, a DOCO with the Metropolitan Police.

Inspector Matt Turner, Partnership and Prevention Team, Metropolitan Police, says: “Early engagement and good partnership working can achieve fantastic results.

“It ensures that security considerations are incorporated throughout the development in a subtle manner and not seen as an awkward after-thought. The Town House is a great facility for the students and local community and the design will help reduce opportunities for crime and demand on policing.”

Wearing distinctive uniforms and identity badges, security staff carry out patrols kitted out additionally with stab vests, body cameras, portable first-aid kits and even water-bottles for acid attacks

The view from the University

Gary Young, estates technical co-ordinator, visited a number of universities to seek best practice and found a wide spectrum ranging from relaxed to imposing security – and in some cases found security compromised by the architecture of the building.

“We looked at it a different way. All our buildings here make up an open campus – exactly what we want. We didn’t want to put up a building that went against our community objectives. Assessing the needs of students, staff and the public has been complicated but we have found a resolution,” he says.

Ian Appleford, head of health, safety and security, adds: “We are a community-facing organisation and want the building to be seen and appreciated. We have a duty of care to our staff, students and all the building’s users.

“We have ensured that reasonable measures and restrictions are in place that can be applied as and when we need them. This helps us use the building for a range of purposes.”

Security measures have been subtly incorporated throughout the building


Extending security beyond the campus

Being able to work in local communities bordering the campus, which had been outside the realm of the university’s security services, has been possible because of the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS). A voluntary scheme, which is contained in Section 40 of the Police Reform Act 2002, CSAS enables private security companies to have their staff accredited with certain police powers by their local police force in England and Wales.

The role of assessing private sector companies seeking approval to run a CSAS is carried out on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council by PCPI, which carries out checks to establish whether companies are ‘fit and proper’ to exercise CSAS powers. PCPI then makes recommendations to chief constables in the area in which the scheme will operate. It is chief constables who decide whether to accredit employed people already working in roles that contribute to maintaining and improving community safety with limited but targeted powers.

Kingston University is one of the few universities in the country that has its own specialist service and facilities management company that looks after its security. Kingston University Service Company (KUSCO) is wholly owned by Kingston University and works exclusively for the university.

Kingston’s CSAS scheme launched at the beginning of the academic year in September 2017, after members of the team had undergone comprehensive police vetting and extensive training, including personal safety and conflict management and the practical application of limited but targeted powers to reduce student-related anti-social behaviour (ASB) in designated areas outside the campus.

Out and about in the community

Wearing distinctive uniforms and identity badges, security staff carry out patrols kitted out additionally with stab vests, body cameras, portable first-aid kits and even water-bottles for acid attacks.

Their accredited CSAS powers include requesting the name and address of a person acting in an anti-social manner and from offences that cause injury, alarm and distress, requiring persons under 18 to surrender alcohol as well as dealing with begging and stopping cyclists when appropriate.

KUSCO addresses local community concerns which include escorting or monitoring large groups of students leaving the university’s bars for accommodation outside the campus as well as those returning late at night from the town centre to their on-campus halls of residence.

The team also deal with local house parties overflowing into streets and complaints about ASB from members of the public. In its first year, 229 ‘events’ were logged and 76 ‘interventions’ were made by the team as well as achieving a significant reduction in noise and graffiti on campus.

In addition, KUSCO has been of great assistance to the Metropolitan Police in many other respects too, such as dealing with drunk and disorderly homeless people, dealing with ‘suspicious’ vehicles parked near to the halls of residence, and other incidents, such as intervening to stop a group of unknown youths behaving in an anti-social manner on bicycles and reporting youths on motorcycles riding recklessly in an alleyway.

Police have informed KUSCO that reports of ASB in the streets surrounding the halls of residence have been few and far between, if any. For example, reports of incidents to police from one street outside the campus had fallen from more than 50 in a 24-month period to zero after the scheme was launched.

Why security is so important to the university

Nigel Bell, security manager, KUSCO, explains: “Kingston University wants to create a real presence in the borough that reflects the importance of our civic and community ambitions. We want an open and welcoming approach to collaboration between the university, local residents, businesses and the police. Security plays a major part in what we are seeking to achieve.

“Creating a safe and secure learning environment for students, staff, visitors and contractors has always been well-entrenched into the proactive nature of our security team. What CSAS has done is to enable us to extend our remit beyond the campus to tackle any ASB in surrounding streets. I am delighted to report that the scheme continues to receive positive comments from students, staff, residents and police.

“CSAS means we can help students stay safe over a wider area and assist the police by taking the pressure off them, reporting incidents to them and helping them make the most of their hard-pressed resources.”

Backing from the Metropolitan Police

Strong support for the university’s security team has come from the Metropolitan Police. “KUSCO and its CSAS-accredited staff are continuing to work closely with the Metropolitan Police to have a positive impact on the local community and the quality of life around the university,” says Superintendent Roger Arditti.

“We have seen reductions in night-time ASB calls to police of up to 95%. I truly believe that this is an example of best practice and sincerely hope that the scheme will become a model for other institutions nationwide.”

Guy Ferguson is CEO of Police Crime Prevention Initiatives (PCPI) and an ex-detective chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police.

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