Students demand more action as police struggle to control Selly crime wave
Police accused of incompetence, following two armed robberies in as many weeks, while students voice fear and disillusionment over the situation. (splash photo posed by model)
• Two armed robberies have occurred in three weeks
• 1 in 3 students at UoB are victims of crime
• Selly Oak is one of the worst neighbourhoods in the region
• Police accused of several counts of incompetence and negligence
• Increase in students being assaulted and mugged walking back from nights out such as Fab.
For many, it represents an unsettling reminder of the dangers present during their time at UoB. For others the incidents have provoked a state of panic, leading some students to even purchase baseball bats and pepper spray in fear of further incidents.
While both incidents were shocking, they are just two crimes in a growing number of assaults, thefts and robberies that are plaguing the community. Since The Tab began covering the crime wave, we have received numerous reports of attempted muggings and violent attacks,
Undoubtedly they have served as an eye opener, but more importantly, the last two weeks have raised one serious question among frightened students: Is enough being done to protect our wellbeing?
Well if we are going on the statistics, then you would have no say no, there is not.
As a UoB student, during your university lifetime you have a 1 in 3 chance of falling victim to crime. Shocking though that might seem, how many of you could name someone you know who has been either burgled or assaulted? Well, from my own experience I know it is a lot of people.
But it gets worse – in 2010 the annual number of burglaries in Selly was 300 – not only is this staggeringly high but it is also three times the regional average. Selly Oak is in the top 5 “at risk” neighbourhoods for burglary in the region. After personally interviewing several of the victims of the Tiverton and Bournebrook knife crimes, these statistics reinforce just how bad crime really is here.
I spoke to a student who had purchased a baseball bat following the Tiverton robbery. She told me: “My housemate was so panicked by the incident, that she bought a baseball bat, incase we needed to defend ourselves from a break in.
“We don’t feel particularly protected by the police in Selly, so we want to make sure we can feel secure in our own home.”
However, when I spoke to Sergeant Simon Williams of the West Midlands Police, it appeared they have a different view on the current situation.
The sergeant emphasised that the incidents were being taken very seriously by both the police and the University. But he also said he believed the spike in robberies to be only a “temporary increase.”
He said: “Selly Oak is currently at its lowest crime rate in years, between October and December last year, less than 1.5% of all student houses in the area were targets for burglars.
While he was keen to reveal figures taken before Christmas, he did not account for the 127 crimes that were committed in January this year alone. A cause for concern? It’s only 42 off the total reported in Hackney during the same period.
In regard to robberies alone, there have been 26 since February.
If you look at the level of crime throughout 2013, the levels of criminal activity are even higher.
And at this time of the year, it’s no surprise to find that crime in this period consistently remains at such a high level, given that this is when students are in residency. The police may have reduced crime to an extent, but should students be satisfied given that year on year, crime continues to remain high during the University semester?
It appears that despite police assurances that they have stepped up their presence and patrols, many students feel that neither they nor the University are currently providing an adequate level of welfare and security provision for a student population that is being targeted specifically due to its vulnerability.
The police have made some inroads, including five arrests made this week, and the Lo-Jack laptop tracking software that many students were given at the beginning of this year. Burglary is also down, with only 12 burglaries since February.
But the consensus among students is that the only real deterrent to combat this recent surge in assault and robbery, is far greater police presence and more involvement from the Guild and University on the issue.
Many students have claimed that police incompetence is adding to the problem.
The victims I interviewed from the Bournbrook robbery, raised concerns that they weren’t satisfied with the police presence in the area, nor were they happy with their performance.
One told us that two of the investigating police officers made jokes they felt were “inappropriate” and were not suitable given the situation.
Another student said: “I am not satisfied with police performance. In the daytime they are around, but at night I have never seen a police officer.
“The police aren’t taking the situation seriously enough.”
In a different interview a student told me he had lost “a deep seated trust” for the police following an incident he was involved in September last year.
He and a group of 12 students at a house party received death threats and physical abuse from non-student neighbours, armed with an axe, during a confrontation over noise generated at the party.
One of the students was told by the axe-wielding complainant that he would “chop his f****** head off.” The student was also grabbed round the throat. Luckily there was no further escalation and no serious attack occurred.
Despite a potentially life-threatening situation and a section 5 public order offence, the police officers investigating remarked: “It’s probably six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
Several of the students provided witness statements, but the police dismissed the incident because the students were under the influence, despite several students protesting they had not drank. No further action was taken.
This incident is one of 691 (69%) incidents between May 2013 and January 2014 that have resulted in no further action. This figure is considerably higher than several other local areas.
Clearly disillusioned with the lack of police action, he accused the police of “showing a sinister undercurrent of laziness and preconceptions about students.
He said: “I have lost all previous trust in the police to protect me.”
This sense of injustice appears to be prevalent amongst other UoB students. Another Selly resident informed the Tab about another case of alleged police negligence that occurred last week.
On seeing a woman collapsed outside The Goose , the student in question says he informed two police officers in Aldi who were queuing to purchase their lunch. Not showing any sense of urgency, the two officers replied: “Oh really, well we will drive by and take a look.”
He claims they then continued to queue for their lunch for another 5-10 minutes before being observed driving past the area where the woman had collapsed, without stopping to follow the incident up.
The student said he was appalled at the complete lack of urgency to a potentially serious situation.
I also contacted several students concerning an incident that took place last Friday evening, when a black male tried to break into a house of 7 students by impersonating a policeman.
One of the students said: “As far as I’m concerned, the police are nowhere to be seen at night. In my opinion the crime here is so high because criminals see Selly Oak as easy pickings. They know they can get away with it here.”
What is clear is that crime appears to be having serious consequences on student well-being. Another student who was assaulted recently when walking home from Fab described how the ordeal had seriously effected his sense of security and daily life: “After the assault I was very shaken. It has made me really reconsider going out at night at all.
“I no longer feel comfortable when walking home alone. Even things like walking home from the library at night are now a worry.”
The Guild and the University in press statements given to me, appeared to demonstrate the same disconcerting approach to the situation.
When it was suggested that students were calling for more night time security when walking home from nights out, Jethro Lee, Guild VP for Welfare said that the Guild didn’t feel that students needed “chaperoning”, but that they would explore the idea.
The University side-stepped similar questions but said: “Police resourcing is obviously a matter for the police but we have every confidence in both our dedicated campus police officer and the wider Selly Oak force.”
When approached for comment, Sergeant Williams emphasised that police presence has been significantly increased, but urged students to work with the police and come forward with information.
In response to the allegations made against the police, he made it known that he would be investigating the incidents and added: “We welcome feedback and strive to deliver the best possible service we can provide.”
The consensus amongst students however is that the police must further increase their patrols and work harder to combat the recent crime spike. Unless the Guild and University are also willing to extend their involvement and support, without drastic action serious crime looks set not only to continue, but intensify in Selly Oak.
Have you been the victim of crime in Selly Oak? Email [email protected] and tell us your story.