Having lived in one of Birmingham’s student suburbs, Selly Oak, for two years – an area where muggings and assaults against students were frequent topics of discussion- the question of whether local police were doing enough to help students was a common question.
With Birmingham’s student media covering every assault as it happened – from the man exposing himself in a Yoda mask to female students, to the reports of burglaries and muggings late at night in the suburb – it often felt like we were just being left to it by police.
Given Selly Oak’s close proximity to Birmingham’s Edgbaston Campus, it is inevitable that students are going to want to live there, and the reports of crime are unlikely to change this.
But how much crime actually is there? Birmingham’s police frequently point out that despite appearing otherwise, crime statistics in the area have actually improved:
‘All crimes across Selly Oak are down since modern crime recording methods were introduced in 2010. What we’ve seen over the past three months is a slight rise – a rise often seen across the UK in winter – but a rise that we’re tackling robustly’, said superintendent Paul Minor from Birmingham Police (via the West Midlands Police website).
‘It’s unfair to suggest that Selly Oak is Birmingham’s crime hotspot,’ Supt Minor added.
“It needs to be remembered that the figures are somewhat skewed by the very fact that student houses are classed as multiple dwellings. This means that if a burglar strikes, then all of the people living there who have had property stolen would be counted individually making the numbers appear higher – even though there has only been one offence.’
‘Given the number of people who live in the area and the issue of multiple dwellings, crime rates compare favourably to other areas in the city.’
Notably too, a lack of visible police presence in student areas like Selly Oak can be down to the presence of plain-clothed patrols and unmarked cars which are used alongside uniformed ones.
Evidently, how safe we feel in student areas, and the actual crime statistics do not always match up. That said, were you to fall victim to a crime in a student area, it would be of little comfort to know that you are one of only a few victims.
But I can only speak for my experiences in Birmingham, I spoke to Nell, a student in Manchester about her experiences of dealing with the police:
‘This is quite personal and something I don’t talk about a lot. In second year I was assaulted on the way home from a house party. This was in area of Manchester that notorious for it. I called the police who told me I was silly for being out by myself at 5.30am in the morning, even though that’s the time I’d leave for work when I had a 7am start.
‘Jump forward a year and half and the university, city council and police fund G4s to police the area for house parties. There had been a three year campaign for them to do something about the rapes in the area, and we were told there was no money for it.’
‘That makes many students I talk to think that the police and local government aren’t for us. They find the time to shut-down house parties, but don’t have the time and money to protect us from attacks. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.’
Notably too, according to Pinknews.co.uk, it was Manchester’s Students Union who submitted a motion to try and block police from attending future Pride events at the NUS transgender conference, which has since been passed. This motion describes how the police,
‘…disproportionately target trans people, along with sex workers, working class communities and communities of colour for policing, leading to an increase in those groups in the prison population.’
Police presence around student areas is a contentious issue, with strong opinions on both sides of the argument. It seems clear to me, however, that greater communication between students and police is what’s required to try and take steps towards remedying this difficult situation.