Students are a valuable asset in crime prevention

Steve's baby daughter made amazing progress this week, or so his wife thought

STEVE CANAVAN: It was a lot of rattle over just a little roll

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Very often, the best ideas are the simple ones. And that can be said for the new initiative involving Hampshire Police and the University of Portsmouth.

The training of 12 undergraduates to give crime prevention advice and be a visible presence in student buildings helps the university’s designated police officer PC Dave Fairbrother in the effort to keep young people safe from crime.

And it benefits the dozen volunteers who will learn valuable skills as they take on positions of responsibility.

Little wonder, perhaps, that other police forces and universities are looking at the Portsmouth model with a view to replicating it.

The scheme involves specially-trained students effectively ‘going on the beat’ in and around university buildings and advising fellow students about how to avoid burglary, vehicle and computer crime.

And as Alice Hickman, the university’s volunteer officer, rightly says, many students are more likely to pay attention to advice if it comes from one of their peers.

There is also an element of deterrence to the small minority of students who cause problems on the campus. For instance, the number of malicious fire alarms has gone down since the volunteer students started patrols in their high-visibility jackets.

And, it is hoped, those patrols might also act as a deterrent to intruders bent on stealing valuables, with bike theft being a particular problem.

It’s significant that several of the volunteers are studying in the university’s nationally-acclaimed criminology department.

Some see their career in the police force, and so the ‘work experience’ they are gaining will prove invaluable.

Critics may say that the police, trying desperately as they are to make ends meet amid increasing pressure on their financial resources, are simply seeking to get something for nothing.

That though is patently not the case. The University of Portsmouth experiment has already proved its worth and is being tightly controlled and supervised.

All participants have to pass an aptitude test and receive full training before they start their assignments.

That’s vital, because they are in a position in which other students trust them. If the job is not done properly then everyone is a loser – police, university and, most of all, students.

Apart from the students participating, the real winners are the freshers who arrive in a new city and are perhaps the most vulnerable to crime.

It is they to whom the work of the volunteer force is largely directed and that can only help in the effort to protect young people who have moved to our city for an important stage in their lives.