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University of Leeds opening

At 11am on Thursday, August 8, on Woodhouse Lane, one of the main roads out of Leeds city centre, a couple of dozen people gathered around a building entrance. Facing them were Alan Cain, Head of Security Services at the University of Leeds; Malcolm Dawson, security operations manager; and Roger Gair, the university secretary, who was there to officially open the new security office. Something similar happened, as Mr Gair told the audience, in 2009 when the then chief constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, did the honours of opening what is now the old security office. So why four years later the move of only some 100 yards down the road?

It’s the students’ fault – a new undergraduate library will go on the site of the now empty 2009 security office and car park. It’s a sign not only of the never-ending development of university campuses, and of the standing of security at unis. For while a cynic might think that the warm words were simply things said at the official opening, the fact is that the move did not come out of security’s budget but out of that library project. And as the Leeds security managers showed guests around their new base, it was plainly every bit as good as the last one.

Pictured: the official plaque to mark the opening of the security office at 175 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.

A couple of hours later, as guests said their farewells, Alan Cain sat on a black sofa in a corner of his office and spoke to Professional Security. Around the room were clues to his life – the London Scottish Regiment plaque on the wall, family photographs on the top shelf, shelves of books (the one on top of his desk is Dr Peter Speight’s Why Security Fails, reviewed last September), certificates framed, a folder with the logo of the American Embassy on the coffee table. He worked originally for Securicor, mainly banking contracts in the City of London. Serving in the London Scottish TA, he mobilised for Iraq and served six months in Basra on convoy escorts. “When I came back from there, Securicor had merged with Group 4 Falck to become G4S,” he recalled. As part of that merger, he took the US Embassy contract, as the embassy wanted someone with recent experience of Iraq or Afghanistan, and who had a security or risk management qualification, ‘and I ticked both boxes’. Alan described the embassy security as like an airport, ‘without any planes’. Visitors go through security screening including walk-through metal detectors, x-ray scanners and Itemisers to check for explosives traces. They do this twice. The first time is at booths on the perimeter fence, by G4S, under the armed overwatch of the Met Police’s Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG). The second time is at booths at the embassy entrance, again by G4S, under the overwatch of the Marine Security Guards (MSG), serving US Marines. Alan was called up again, for Afghanistan, and was attached to the 1st battalion, Grenadier Guards. He was next working in Saudi Arabia for Aramco as an instructor at the oil company’s industrial security training centre, ‘where 6000 security officers do their basic training’. He took the Leeds job in September 2011. To explain some of the certificates on his wall, he’s a member of the Security Institute (as is Malcolm Dawson), has a post-graduate certificate in security and risk management from Leicester and has the final, eighth module to go in an advanced certificate in terrorism studies with St Andrews University. And being nosey, Professional Security spotted that he has a BSc in psychology from Hull University. While, then, he has put in the academic time, it has practical use; it’s a fact that some of the 7-7 bombers came from Leeds; and many of the reported UK and indeed overseas terror plots since have involved past or present university students. As part of the Government’s PREVENT agenda to counter terrorism, it matters to know how and why young people are radicalised and indeed how to spot early signs.

But that is not to suggest any university is a hotbed of anything; rather, that in such large gatherings of young people, you will have some criminal – and criminals looking to prey on them. As Alan Cain said: “It’s a population the same as Scarborough, it’s a 98-acre campus. That size of campus itself is a significant area to patrol. And if you think of it, you are effectively patrolling a small town.” Leeds has 32,000 students plus thousands of staff, and visitors and contractors (a pneumatic drill was going up the road from the new security office). Next door is Leeds Metropolitan University. The security department – 38 staff, 30 in-house – does not get involved in locking and unlocking doors; porters do that. “Security is very much mirrored on the police model,” Alan added. Security will patrol as police would a town, and answer alarm calls. The eight contract security staff are provided by the contractor Axis Security, whose MD Jonathan Levine was among attenders. Being able to call on Axis saves the department, whether for extra officers at special events; or to cover holidays or sickness. As for what counts as special at Leeds, how about: the annual summer ball (about 5500 students, alcohol, and fairground rides); visits by former Labour minister Jack Straw, the president of Liberia, and the Israeli ambassador; and the Chinese Olympic athletes and officials living and training for six weeks at Leeds and Leeds Met before London 2012. You will recall the public trouble during the Chinese hand-over of the Olympic flame on the streets of London; the only protest at Leeds was peaceful, by the Falun Gong movement. The Israeli ambassador’s visit warranted 14 extra officers, besides the ambassador’s own security detail. The six months of security planning took in the halls of residence that the Chinese stayed in; the coaches they travelled in; and the training venues.

As for day to day work, it’s as you might expect at any campus or any collection of thousands of people; robberies and burglaries. Alan points to a 58 per cent reduction in burglaries of students in the last 12 months, ‘and that has been largely due to a partnership between us and West Yorkshire Police and an initiative called Project Optimal’. In three words, it’s crime pattern analysis. I recalled that a dozen years ago a front cover of Professional Security carried a Leeds security officer and a police officer on a joint patrol for freshers week, the autumn start of the academic year when new students are at their most vulnerable. The partnership work has come on. Having signed an information sharing agreement, police pass to the uni their crime pattern analysis, ‘which enables us to carry out hot-spot patrolling’. In other words, software can suggest where burglars will target next week, “It’s been superb.” Significantly – as a fact and as a sign of how detailed the stats are – the percentage reduction for all burglaries (including non-students living in the same area) is 44 per cent. It means that the Optimal patrols by police were responsible for 44 of that 58pc reduction, and the Optimal patrols done by Leeds uni security contributed the further 14.

More partnership working: the police station at Belle Vue shut and police were looking for a city centre location. “We happened to have a spare building empty; we came to an arrangement with the police; they pay a peppercorn rent and we give them a building.” It means that a police station with 120 response officers is on a corner of the campus; those police coming and going from the station add up to what Alan calls ‘a massive extra footfall in terms of uniformed presence, at no extra cost to the university. It’s a very nice win-win for everybody.’ And you may know of Immobilise ( the free national register of property. As theft of mobile phones from pubs and clubs is rife, the idea is: register your laptop or bicycle or camera, and if it’s stolen, police can identify it as yours. Previously, Leeds had to input registrations manually. Hence it bought a product called Hermes, like supermarket barcoding. So far more than half of the 7500 students in halls of residence have uploaded their property details. The aim is to get all first-years registered (who then become second and third years). Police have a sister piece of equipment: Apollo. It checks in real time the bar codes; if then police stop and search someone, a sweep with the Apollo product sees if the phone the person is carrying is stolen. Or, police can check along the aisle of a second-hand store, and see what property’s stolen. The aim; to end the trade in stolen goods. Significantly, Alan added: “The proof of the pudding is the Complete University Guide. Last year we were second from bottom for crime in that list. In one year we have come up 15 places. And that is largely due to Optimal and Immobilise and the partnership work with the police. It’s made a very significant difference.” Only in our June issue, such student guides were queried by Colin Holland, Head of Security and Business Continuity at London South Bank University (LSBU). It’s hardly shocking, for one thing, that a big-city university has more crime than a countryside campus. Leaving aside how fair statistics are, that is what some students – and their parents? – go by, when choosing which university to study at, or at least apply for and take a look at. Scoring highly, or at least improving, in the ‘league tables’ matters as universities have to become ever more business-like. Security and policing for students has to be a balancing act; yes, Security wants to warn of the risks from spike drinks, theft and burglary, but messages have to get through, and the danger is that young people pay no attention because it’s adult fuddy-duddy talk.

Who was there?
Phil Foster, security manager at the University of York; Peter Foy, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust security adviser – Leeds General Infirmary is next door to the campus; Kevin Webb and Steve Bennett from the building contractors William Birch and Sons; Dale Gregory of the security installers TIS; West Yorkshire Police including Supt Michael Hunter; ex-police man now CCTV trainer Mick Bolton, now of DKM Assessment and Verification; from the uni, Matt Lyons, project manager, part of the estates department, and Dennis Hopper, director of facilities. He told Professional Security: “Security is part of my remit as facilities management. It’s been a really positive move, to bring everything on one site. It’s an investment in what is a really key part of the university. These guys are here 24-7, they look after the safety and security of 40,000 on the campus. And we really rely on this unit and this building and the people in it to look after a small town, effectively. I think people sometimes under-estimate the effects of security. They are the first people to greet visitors and guests, they are on site when there is an incident, they are trained in first aid and to respond to all sorts of things.” As it’s not every day we meet a director of facilities – in charge of 1200 people and a budget of £80m – what’s his background?! Originally he worked in hotel management; for the drinks and hospitality firm Bass as a regional manager; and has been in higher education for the last 15 years. Before Leeds he was at Edinburgh. Under facilities comes estates; the building work and maintenance; the teaching equipment and cleaning; the mailroom; student ‘bed spaces’; catering; event and conference management; and the university has its own design and project management staff. His mobile rings and he takes the call.

The crime prevention officer (CPO) Andy Gordon-Platt takes us on guided tours around the building, a dozen at a time, as the air-lock into the building – covered by an Axis Communications dome camera – can only hold so many. Downstairs are a training room; rest room (with separately coloured bins for cans, general waste and clean plastic – unis are keen to recycle); IT and comms room (Synectics kit); kitchen; toilet and shower; and the control room. A dozen flat-screen monitors and three desks. Operators take phone calls to Security and monitor officer radio transmissions and intercoms; and monitor the CCTV and fire and intruder, lift, flood and maintenance alarms. Standing in the control room Malcolm Dawson said: “It’s improved response times without a doubt. When an alarm goes off we get straight on to the camera and we can direct the patrols to where they [the burglars] are going to.” Upstairs, another kitchen, toilets, offices for the CPO and the campus PC Matt Guy (his helmet was on his desk, I spied) and a lost property office – something Malcolm as an ex-police man is careful to run properly. Property brought in is logged and if not claimed, goes to a hospice. All door locks are SimonsVoss, contactless. Last but not least; who out of Alan Cain and Malcolm Dawson has bagged the nicest office?! Alan’s is larger, but Malcolm does have a black antique fireplace: “It’s listed,” he said, “they couldn’t take it out!”

In brief

The security reception is open 7am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday. Out of hours, students can press a button outside to speak to Security. The building has access for the disabled, whether a ramp for wheelchair-users to visit the reception desk, or if control room staff are disabled.


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