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Criminology informs uni’s security

In the December 2020 print edition of Professional Security magazine, we featured the campus security at Sunderland University. We mentioned in passing how the security department has called on one of the university’s criminologists, senior lecturer Dr Nicola Roberts, pictured, to better inform how security is done on campus. We made another Teams call to hear from her.

As just about every university has a security department, and most unis teach criminology, you might think it’s an obvious match. Both sides stand to gain; Security, by being advised if what they’re doing works, to counter crime, or what they could do better. The academic, because like any social science, criminology is all about evidence. Nicola is due to give a paper on student safety to the British Sociological Association annual conference at Easter. Yet, for whatever reasons, such link-ups are far from common.

Nicola Roberts has a background in the probation service and that is still one of her research fields; so is student perception of safety on campus. As a member of the crime prevention group at Sunderland University she’s been able to bring her own research and that of others – such as in North America – to the table (literally, until covid).

As she told Professional Security, the crime prevention group covers the mainstream topics that crop up on any campus – incidents, thefts. It makes for reactive security. But from her own research and others’, once you start asking students – certainly female students – how they feel about safety on campus, some have experienced sexual harassment. We should point out right away that most students report no such safety problems – in fact, some don’t even know that there is a security department. Which you could take in different ways – is that good, because students are not victims of crime; or bad, because security isn’t on the radar of students, their ‘customers’? The point here is that unless you ask, by carrying out research, you don’t know. Nicola says of Sunderland’s security department: “Security are really open-minded to try to evidence-base what they are doing; which is reassuring, really.”

For more of the interview, visit the January 2021 print edition of Professional Security magazine online, or click here.


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