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View from the frontline: An interview with Malcolm Dawson (BEM)

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Malcolm Dawson (BEM), Head of Security at the University of Leeds and International Director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). Malcolm has a great deal of experience gained over a distinguished career in security management in the higher education sector. Over a cup of tea, Malcolm shared with me his reflections on the role of university security, as well as advice for those new to the sector. We discussed how university security in the UK has changed since he started out, and his more recent involvement in IACLEA. Malcolm's responses suggest ProtectED is bringing into focus problems faced daily by universities, students and staff all over the world, and endorse the work of ProtectED Member institutions to improve the safety, security and wellbeing of their students.

What is the Proudest moment in your career?

With 44 years of police and higher education security experience, there are a number of special moments in my career of which I'm really proud — during both the very early and more recent years. A particularly proud moment was marching around the parade square at Newby Wiske, Northallerton, at my passing out parade when I joined North Yorkshire Police as an 18-year-old. I never aspired to become a police officer, but a chance meeting led to a police career. During my 15-year in the police, I served for three years on the North Yorkshire Police Task Force, and eventually held the ‘Heartbeat’ role as a rural police officer covering 26 villages and parts of the fabulous North Yorkshire Moors. However, I think the proudest career moment for me was being awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours list, for services to Higher Education and Students. More recently, I was particularly pleased to be elected to join the US-based IACLEA Board of Directors for a 3-year term of office as International Regional Director. Votes were cast by international members of Institutes in South Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, the UK and the Middle East. Being elected to work with IACLEA is a privilege and includes working in America at times throughout the year. I have to thank my line-manager and the University of Leeds for their unwavering support.

Congratulations on being nominated as the International Regional Director of IACLEA. How do you see your HEI experiences adding value within the new role to positively challenge the Global norms?

I have many years’ experience in the higher education sector and for many of those years I have been involved with AUCSO — the Association of University Chief Security Officers (heads of security). For those not familiar with IACLEA, it is the professional association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators or Police Chiefs at US universities. In 2012, I was chosen to go to America in the first ever AUCSO–IACLEA international exchange programme to benchmark and witness first-hand how they operate in the USA. I visited Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, Georgia and was amazed to find that they were no different to us in the kind of problems and issues they dealt with — the only difference being the size of their campus and the fact they had nearly 100 officers, all armed. Both associations now collaborate to ensure the safety and security of staff and students at member institutions across the world. Knowledge gained over my career is shared with my American colleagues to positively make a difference to enhance student life and their university experience. During my first year in office, I hope I have made a positive impact promoting the work of IACLEA not only here in the UK, but across Europe and beyond.

The British Empire Medal is awarded for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown. How did this feel, when you received yours?

Firstly, like all fellow recipients in the honours list, an unexpected letter arrives from the Cabinet Office informing you of your pending honour. I received my medal from the late Barry Dodd, Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, the Queen's Representative, at a wonderful formal ceremony at County Hall, Northallerton. We six recipients enjoyed the full pomp and grandeur of the event, followed by a reception and drinks. With my wife and two friends present it was probably the proudest day of my working life. I felt so humbled and honoured by the award. The following June, both my wife and I were invited to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

What advice would you give someone starting a career in Security or within professional services in the higher education sector?

Go for it! I would certainly recommend a career in university security. Times have changed so much since I joined the University of Leeds, where I am now in my 29th year. Years ago, we locked and secured buildings while a second patrol ensured that they were still secure with no forced entry. Crime was still a concern in the early 90’s but we have evolved, like all other universities, to the present day to meet both student, staff and customer demands. Our focus — like all universities in the UK, Europe and the USA — is the increase in mental health issues together with providing support to those affected. Criminality continues to be an issue in our fight to ensure that Leeds remains a safe place for our staff and students, where they can carry out their academic studies in a safe and secure environment. And of course, the continued threat of international terrorism that affects us all. In a structured security department, there are opportunities to progress your career and a pathway to promotion. I know from my colleagues across the UK the high level of training and support within all our departments, which offers excellent training to new recruits joining the team.

How do you create a great team?

I strongly believe that the art of creating a great team has got to start at the recruitment stage. Several years ago, many adverts stated that the candidate should have so many years' service and ideally be from a police or forces background. Times have changed. Whilst security is still at the forefront of our work, due to staff and student demands "customer service" and "customer care" is now driving the way forward. Whilst I always recruit the best, most appropriate candidate, and while I look for the right calibre of candidate, I also look at their personality, values and passion for the role. With a dedicated training officer here on hand for new recruits, we can train them to our required standards and so can start with a 'blank sheet of paper' for those with little or no previous security experience. This works well with those bringing relevant transferable skills from their previous roles. Bespoke training continues through new staff members' 6-month probation and for the following 18 months, and CPD training is available to all staff. Having the right people in their respective roles, irrespective of position or rank, and by continually engaging, informing and rewarding staff for excellent work over and above their role encourages consistent and great teamwork. All of which benefits the students and academic population we serve.

We hear a lot that the security in the HE sector deals with so much more than the standard day-to-day security tasks. Wellbeing is at the very top of everyone’s agenda. What advice do you have on working collectively and sharing good practice?

One of the main purposes and objectives of both AUCSO and IACLEA is not only benchmarking, but the sharing of good practice amongst colleagues across the globe — something I have done for many, many years in my work here in Leeds. It is good to hear and at times learn from other higher education establishments to achieve best practice in our daily endeavours. My advice: don’t be afraid to ask and to share.

How do you think ProtectED is helping change the HEI sector for the good?

ProtectED is a quality standard aimed at the many issues that HEI’s are faced with today, some already mentioned above, as we all continue to work to ensure that our campuses remain a safe and secure environment for academic study. Our role has developed in recent years to become a much broader one, covering not only student safety but also student wellbeing — which amongst other aspects is covered in the ProtectED Code of Practice.

I really appreciate Malcolm speaking to me and sharing insights from his career. It’s good to hear that benchmarking and sharing and learning from good practice, is important in his work as Head of Security at the University of Leeds — and in his capacity as IACLEA International Director. It is also interesting that Malcolm's experience endorses the ProtectED perspective that university security staff no longer just deal with 'security' issues but play a key role in safeguarding student wellbeing and mental health.

Lisa Ravenscroft – Communications Manager for ProtectED. You can contact me on: t: +44 (0)161 295 6729 or m: +44 (0)7889 933034 or at

Twitter: @ProtectED_HEI

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