Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Mike Peel

UK university students accuse police of Covid harassment

Several UK campuses have accused their universities of giving police officers access to private halls of residence to monitor breaches of coronavirus rules.

There have been multiple complaints of police officers entering private accommodation in the middle of the night from university campuses across the UK.

Students at the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield reported to The Guardian that there have been regular police patrols and a widespread use of fines up to £800 in an attempt to restrict household mixing.

They believe that university security may have handed keys to police officers to enter flats and ensure that students were not socialising with other households. The universities have denied this.

The president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Larissa Kennedy, said: “[During the pandemic there have been] increased numbers of police patrols who have been given more powers than ever before. On an off campus, this routine resulted in harassment, racial profiling and several impacts on students’ mental health.”

A first-year student at the University of Sheffield living in Froggatt Halls, said that there have been police patrols every weekend in the area in which several halls of residence are located. She reported that her flat had been visited three times in the last month alone.

“The first time was at 1.30am and I was in bed. We had left our door on the latch, so the police officer came in and was quite aggressive.

“Across the hall I could see another police officer talking to a girl alone in her flat, asking how many people lived there,” she said. “It’s an invasion of privacy.”

Now they’re everywhere, supposedly acting as figures of safety. It makes it difficult to judge their true intentions, and certainly doesn’t make me feel safe

– University of Warwick student

In a tweet, a student rent strike group at the University of Sussex advised students reporting heavy-handed policing to video police entering their flats and to take down badge numbers alongside asking the reasons for their entry.

Students at the University of Manchester and the police monitoring network Netpol published a report on 11 March, stating that several police cars patrol Fallowfield campus every weekend.

The reports implores that police only arrive on campus when an incident is reported by students. It states: “The intrusive police presence on campus has created an atmosphere of fear among students. Many students have reported feeling unsafe, some to the extent of having panic attacks, due to the ability of…the police to enter their homes at any moments.”

Similar reports have been collected by a Netpol spokesperson from students in Bristol, Sussex, Sheffield and Northumbria and the network is now working with the NUS to expand guidance for students on their civil rights.

Northumbria stated that: “The University works in partnership with the police for the safety of our students and the wider community. We are aware they have issued fixed penalty notices for breaches of Covid-19 legislation across all communities, including university accommodation.”

A spokesperson at Leeds said the police were on site “to give friendly advice about keeping safe, following lockdown rules, avoiding complaints…and ultimately, avoiding fines.

“Nevertheless, after concerns were raised…we have made clear to the police that officers should only be on our sites when their attendance has been requested or when they have police business.”

In a conversation with The Boar, one second-year at the University of Warwick said: “I find it difficult to be safe around the police having grown up in London. I never saw their presence despite gang violence and knife crime being rife.

“Now they’re everywhere, supposedly acting as figures of safety. It makes it difficult to judge their true intentions, and certainly doesn’t make me feel safe.”

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