Over the last six years, South Wales Police have worked with Student Volunteers from Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, The University of South Wales and The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of South Wales’ students and the wider community. We spoke to PC Student Liaison Officer Mike Neate to find out more about this initiative.
It all begins with the recruitment process which is facilitated by Student Volunteering Cardiff – a student-led charity that runs a wide range of volunteering projects throughout Cardiff. Those interested in becoming Police Student Volunteers can apply for the role when the recruitment window opens twice a year. If successful, students are then vetted by South Wales Police and given conflict management and first aid training. Training continues throughout the year, focusing on specialised areas including crime prevention, personal safety and ‘bystander training’ to help spot vulnerable individuals. The project currently has approximately 60 newly-vetted volunteers.
As part of a Neighbourhood Policing Team, students work directly with serving Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers. A key branch of the scheme is the Student Safety Bus, which has a police officer and at least two student volunteers on board at any given time. The bus parks up in well-known hotspot and crowded areas, but it also conducts roving patrols of the city and responds to calls; venue door staff and Student Unions have a phone number for the Safety Bus, if needed. Its purpose is to seek out and assist those who have become vulnerable in the night time economy or who may become vulnerable. This could mean giving a ride home to an intoxicated person; those who use the service are given a hospital-style wristband bearing the message: “How did you get home? Safely, thanks to the Student Safety Bus,” along with details for accessing a dedicated website with student safety advice. However, the bus is there to assist those most in need, for whatever reason they may have become vulnerable.
While the Student Safety Bus operates every Wednesday night during term-time in Cardiff, the service is stepped up at key points throughout the year. In September 2016, the Bus operated for 17 consecutive nights in order to cope with the influx of new students into the city. In fact, thanks to some assistance from the Cardiff University Students Union, there were three buses operating each night. PC Neate explains the extent and impact of the efforts of the Student Police Volunteers, back in September:
“During that period, we had contact with and helped over 624 Students. Many of our volunteers worked flat out during this time, working nights on the safety bus and some coming back in day after day – not only for the bus but then again during the daytime with the other initiatives we had running during that time. Over those 17 nights, our volunteers committed in excess of 1000hrs to South Wales Police, the students and community of Cardiff.”
South Wales Police also operate a Crime Prevention Walkabout with Police Student Volunteers from the four HEIs in Cardiff, for four weeks at the start of the academic year, and then for two weeks at the end of each semester. In 2016, this involved volunteers speaking face-to-face with 2654 students in Halls accommodation, and visiting 45 streets in Cathays – a densely populated area of Cardiff with many student residents, speaking to over 5000 students in person. Students and residents were provided with information and advice on personal safety, crime prevention, anti-social behaviour issues around noise and parties etc. PC Neate describes how this initiative helps to improve student-community relations, making the whole community feel safer:
“The good thing for me is that we also give this information to residents as well and it is great to be able to show them that there are students giving something back to the community and keeping them safe. There’s nothing quite like a street with 10-15 hi-vis jackets in it!”
Indeed, for some members of the community, their perception of students may stem from witnessing or reading about anti-social behavior and excessive alcohol consumption. By engaging with the community in this way, the Police Student Volunteers help to change those perceptions, demonstrating that students are also caring, approachable and proactive members of the community. Further, PC Neate has observed how vulnerable students are often comforted by and respond well to the sight of their peers, and may be more likely to take the advice offered to them.
Beyond the Student Safety Bus and the Walkabouts, South Wales Police are always looking for new opportunities to involve students in tackling crime and safety issues; one example includes getting the volunteers involved in operations between the police and the local authority: “[We ran] test purchase operations to deal with taxi drivers either over-charging, going off the meter or refusing fares. The volunteers really enjoy these operations, and being able to use people of this demographic is really useful,” says PC Neate.
A year in the life of a Police Student Volunteer is rounded off with an annual awards night – attended by Police, the Commissioner’s Office and relevant persons from the Universities and Student Unions – where all the time and incredible effort that students have put into the scheme is both recognised and celebrated.