Coppers on Campus

talks to Jon-Mark Buchanan, Police Community Officer (PCO) for the University of York and Heslington, about campus’ safety and what he is doing to improve it

Image: North Yorkshire Police

Image: North Yorkshire Police

The University of York is not often thought of as particularly unsafe campus. This is not necessarily an unfounded supposition.

Located within the distinctly quiet and stereotypically charming English village of Heslington, the University rarely faces the harsh realities of knife or gun crime as present in more metropolitan, non-campus universities. Indeed, recent figures have shown that over the course of the last academic year, from 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009, the crime rate on campus dropped 11.4 per cent. In the newsletter of the University Directorate of Facilities Management (DoFM), it was reported that in the same period, thefts from residential accommodation were down by over 50 per cent over this period, and there was a 33 per cent reduction in vehicle crime. However, the report also noted an increase in cycle theft by over 40 per cent, which Nouse reported on last year.

With the YUSU-organised Crime Week having just passed, PCO for the University of York and Heslington, Jon-Mark Buchanan, spoke about his experience and achievements so far, his reasons for doing the job, and his future plans as the man in charge of our safety. Sitting on a bench by the lake on an uncharacteristically warm Friday afternoon, Buchanan was eager to talk.

“Since taking over as Police Community Officer for York University last year, I have proceeded with a very pro-active approach alongside the area Sergeant, Andy Haigh. Already, whilst working with Andy and University of York staff, I have arranged student surgeries, Operation Spoke and also carried out increased patrol of the University,” he told Nouse.

“Most notably, I have set up student surgeries, the dates and times of which are advertised through the YUSU website, and are a chance for students to come and meet me one-on-one to discuss issues, concerns and ideas for the University and its safety. It’s also a chance for students to benefit from the feeling of a more personal deliverance of service from the police service. I would much sooner have my inbox flooded with emails about students’ concerns than have them be bottled up and unresolved.”

Buchanan isn’t the clichéd copper. It is not often that one detects real passion from someone in a job like his. Genuine in person, he is more than happy to talk about his remit and he seems truly proud of what he does. “You can’t really get much better than working in a place like this”, he claims. “Heslington is a beautiful place and the University is always friendly and concerned when it comes to safety. I was lucky to get the spot; someone was moving jobs, I applied and I got it.”

“I would much sooner have my inbox flooded with emails about students’ concers than have them be bottled up and unresolved.”

PCO for the University of York and Heslington
Jon-Mark Buchanan

Buchanan, though aware that the University is not crime ridden, is dedicated to improving student safety and providing a more representative service. In particular, the recent spate of bike thefts inspired Buchanan to enforce Operation Spoke.

“Operation Spoke is a chance for students to come and have their bike’s marked, and registered, through the Police National Database, and if ever stolen, and recovered, we will have your unique reference number and details and contact to return your cycle.

“As part of this I would also advise students to use a free online service called IMMOBILISE. This is a service where you can register all kinds of property through its unique reference number, i.e. laptops, iPods, cameras etc, and this also works alongside the Police in returning recovered stolen items to their rightful owner.”

Buchanan’s work with YUSU is very important to him. In particular, Buchanan works closely with YUSU Welfare Officer, Ben Humphrys, the most recent manifestation of which was their work together in Week Four’s Crime Week.

“Crime Week went better than I could have expected. YUSU worked particularly hard to organise it and all credit must go to them. We managed to get 169 bikes marked under the Operation Spoke scheme, whilst more than 100 laptops were fitted with a free tracking device should they ever be stolen.”

Buchanan is happy to point out also that crime rates for the University/Heslington area have fallen 8.3 per cent over the course of the April 09/10 year in comparison to the 08/09 year. However, an uncharacteristic spurt of burglaries in February and March this year, varying in location from Vanbrugh College to the University library, indicated a blip in an otherwise good record.

University of York Crime Statistics

11.4% drop in crime levels from 1 Aug 08 to 31 July 09

33% reduction in vehicle crime

40% increase in cycle theft

169 bikes marked during YUSU crime week

Over 50% drop in thefts from residential accommodation

“As for the burglaries we had in the month of February/March, we had a suspect arrested, and now serving time in prison. This is due to the Police making full enquiries into all crimes and taking a hands-on approach to all incidences. I feel that this has had an undeniably positive impact on the University safety, with virtually no reports of burglary since the arrest.”

When asked about the contentious portering cuts made at the University this year, Buchanan responded positively: “Though it is not my place to comment on the circumstances surrounding the portering issue, it is worth pointing out that as well as a police patrol, the University have their own dedicated security team, which I have worked alongside with since starting. The job they do is both effective and professional, managing to keep the University a safe and secure environment. They carry out uniformed and plain clothed patrol, and are easily accessible for students to talk to if they need.

“As part of deterring potential thieves on campus, I have also increased patrol with High Visibility Officers, plain clothed officers and arranged operation days, where we have the Mobile Police Office on campus with officers on board, and also patrolling,” comments Buchanan.

June will see the launch of another welfare campaign, Drive Week, which Buchanan hopes will raise road and car safety awareness. “We are working hard with the fire department and the DVLA to make this an effective and useful event. I would stress to all students that the University of York is a very safe place to live and study, and crime has actually fallen since last year. By taking small steps in security awareness and working alongside myself/North Yorkshire Police, we can continue to provide a safe and secure place for all students.”

Walking past the man, if it wasn’t for the uniform, you couldn’t tell that he was a police officer. That is precisely the point with Buchanan; a relatively young Officer in his early 20s, he expressed his happiness at working with people of a similar age. You get the impression that he is more than about just the job, quite happy to go that extra mile. He actually wants to do what he is doing.

Like I said: eager.

One comment

  1. “The University of York is not often thought of as particularly unsafe campus. This is not necessarily an unfounded supposition.”

    This is sometimes thought of as not necessarily the most elegantly structured first paragraph.

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