“I am not asking them to trust the police, I am asking them to trust me.” Interview with a Police Community Support Officer
The topic of safety, from drug use to sexual violence, dominates conversations on campuses across the UK, but support for students is available that many without “the know-all” may not be making the most out of.
When students appear in the news, it is often within conversations surrounding anti-social behaviour or crime and when parents are sending their child away from home for the first time, their first question will likely be about what will protect them once they have abandoned the nest. Often, universities pride themselves on their security, like Warwick’s own Community Safety Team. Meanwhile, the West Midlands Police may also be seen on campus at times when incidents call for their support.
But who is keeping a formal eye on things?
Will Parker is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) for the West Midlands police, primarily based with the University of Warwick. He is around before things go wrong or to help victims find support.
PCSOs have been in use across the UK, forming teams to ensure safer neighbourhoods, since 2002. The specifics of their roles will vary depending upon the force that the PCSOs exist within. Generally, their role is to patrol and tackle anti-social behaviour as well as supporting front-line policing. Their powers are limited in comparison to police officers, but this does not diminish the importance of their roles to protect the communities they serve.
Parker believes he is a source of information and support, just waiting to be used for his wealth of knowledge by Warwick’s student and staff population. Alongside a passion for sports, specifically rugby, and 80s music, Parker had worked on patrol as a PCSO for just under 16 years in various neighbourhoods across Coventry, of which “some were more challenging than others”.
When the job of ‘University of Warwick Liaison Officer’ came up, Parker decided he wanted a change, and he took on the position in April 2022. He experienced the day-to-day of a PCSO’s job at Coventry University before coming to his position at Warwick University. Parker laments that the community and atmosphere at Warwick differs to other universities, complicating his role. But, he believes that he is here “for the long haul”.
When asked why he believes that his presence on campus is so unknown, he remarked that “we haven’t been well-advertised from the get-go, and a lot of people believe we are just wannabe police officers”. Parker believes that he has so many more characteristics that make him well-suited for his position such as being “outgoing, liaising and getting things done.”
Parker recommends giving him a wave if you spot him riding around campus on his bike in exchange for a lollipop, which he keeps on him at all times.
Other universities have a larger team of PCSOs, such as Birmingham University’s five-strong team. These are then funded by the universities they serve. Meanwhile, although collaborating with PCSOs from the local area, Parker works solo. He takes a “soft approach to build up relationships” with the University community. In fact, Parker recommends giving him a wave if you spot him riding around campus on his bike in exchange for a lollipop, which he keeps on him at all times.
Parker was put in place to specifically target victims of hate crimes and to protect women and children at the University. The groups, however, have proven to be exclusionary, due to a lack of trust. When The Boar asked Parker if he was able to reach a breadth of minority groups on campus, he conceded that this has been a significant difficulty for him. For example, he has had difficulty engaging with the Chinese community, despite this group being one of the most heavily affected by hate crimes in the area.
Cultural differences and the impact of the crimes certain groups face mean that these victims may be a lot less likely to seek out a PCSO for support. For example, a 2023 YouGov report found that “Ethnic minority Britons are divided regarding trust in the police in general (46% trust vs 46% distrust)”. This includes the addressing of issues such as homophobia, racism and misogyny. Yet, Parker hopes that he can help break down the barriers between authorities and these minority groups: “I am not asking them to trust the police, I am asking them to trust me.”
Currently, Parker is relying on building connections and making himself known. He has spent multiple mornings a week holding crime prevention stands within privately ran accommodation blocks in Coventry, in order to reach students who live off-campus. He also runs a Twitter page, @warwickuniwmp, where he keeps students informed on the best ways to protect themselves from crime.
However, raising awareness of a possible crime to the student population, he receives backlash from the University, who do not want to stoke fear among the student body.
For example, he raised awareness of a recent rise in mobile phones being sniped from table tops and continues to warn students that the best way to protect their bikes from theft is to lock it with a D-lock: “It’s an open university… opportunists can come on and take a bike… but just a D-lock will put them off”. However, raising awareness of a possible crime to the student population, he receives backlash from the University, who do not want to stoke fear among the student body. For example, he was rejected when he had asked to hold a stand to provide guidance on anti-spiking measures.
A circumstance that complicates Parker’s work is collaboration between the University and the Police. “From what I know of the Report and Support system, it is a good system, and it is good for the student themselves”. But Parker is also aware that there must be a lot more going on within the campus than he is made aware of. With a better understanding of what is going on in a specific area, the police would be able to put in place more measures to prevent and sort out these instances.
Parker recommends that “If it is a crime, it should be reported to us [the police], as well as Report and Support. If something doesn’t involve a crime, it should still go to Report and Support. It would be nice if things were reported to both instead of just one.” He notes that “If it’s not reported to the police, we don’t know about it”. Regarding the Community Safety Team, he acknowledges that there is a lot more that they can do other than security, such as providing first aid or supporting fire alarm evacuations.
In spite of this, Parker assures that the campus is “extremely safe. There are many cameras, ample lighting and plenty of safe routes that people can use.” He also believes that Warwick is one of the safer universities in the country, which is due to its nature as a campus as well as its Community Safety Team. The Complete University Guide confirms that, in many cases, crime rates are lower within campus universities than those based within cities.
In describing his day-to-day work, Parker spoke of contacting the victims of local criminality that may have been flagged as Warwick students. He lends them support after the fact, and advises them on measures to ensure that such a crime does not happen again. For example, if a burglary took place in an area of Canley that has a high student population, and the victims are of typical student age, Parker is made aware of the incident, and may call or visit the house to give guidance on how to protect the home from future break ins.
Regarding current safety threats to those on campus, Parker spoke of the general issues of online crime and hacking, which have risen for obvious reasons. But for those seeking advice on how to remain safe, Parker recommends “ask me questions, even stupid questions.” And for any concerned about the safety of the universities they are applying to, his advice is to “research the university you are going to and research the area around it.”
With such a large population of students, crime and victimisation is inevitable on Warwick campus, but it is important to not only know, but also understand the mechanisms at work to maintain a safe environment for living and learning within. Without such knowledge, one may miss out on the important resources put together by those working to combat challenges to safety.
A spokesman for the University of Warwick said: “We have good working relationship with both local police forces, and the safety of our staff and students is our top priority. We will continue to work closely with students and police through Welcome Week and beyond to make Warwick as safe and welcoming a place possible.”