The Life of a Campus Cop in Lancaster

He had to remove a sex doll hanging out of the window once


PC Ben Rooke has been the police officer responsible for Lancaster University for the past four years. Now stepping down, we met him at Pendle Rooms to talk about his experiences.

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Hi. Where is it you’re moving onto after almost half a decade of dealing with us?

I’m moving to the police’s mental health response unit, looking at how we deal with these sorts of issues when they come up during police work. It should be a real challenge.

Did you come to Lancaster Uni yourself then?

No, I’ve never been to uni. My wife did though. She was in Grizedale. Really, this has been my university experience.

Students are obviously well-known for doing stupid things. There was a party at UWE a couple days ago that was so big it had its own Snapchat filter, and ended with £700 worth of fines. What’s the maddest thing you’ve seen in Lancaster during your four years?

Hmm. It’s hard to think of one, there’s so many. One I remember is a flat that had a sex doll hanging out the window for some time. It kept getting moved every time we came to find it, I thought that was pretty funny.

Another I remember is from Freshers’ Week a few years ago, I was outside a club and saw eight fresher reps having to carry a ninth who’d got far too drunk. I thought that was quite amusing, but obviously that sort of thing has changed a lot now.

Yeah, I did fresher repping this year and people were a bit more serious about the frep drunkenness side of things than I understand they were in the past.

There’s been a lot of work between me, LUSU and others about that sort of thing.

So you’re the one sucking the fun out of everything.

[laughs]

Talking to people who work security in Lancaster, they’ve said that working at student venues like the Sugarhouse is nice because students can be arseholes, but they’ll never get violent. What do you think about that?

I think one of my funniest memories on the job was a law student in Revolutions. He was arguing about the Human Rights Act with me because the bar refused to give him a free bottle of water—only a free pint of it—and he claimed it was breaching his human rights. We had a long conversation about why it wasn’t (I won). It ended when I asked him to list the criteria for a drunk & disorderly offence, and when he got to ‘argumentative’ he nodded and walked away.

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How did you liaise with students in your work? Did you talk to JCRs and such?

Yeah, I spent a lot of my time talking to JCRs. There’s a lot of talking, and a lot of institutionalised things like Furness’ 15-hr bar crawl. You work out compromises, so for something like that I said they should keep it on campus as much as possible because it’s easier to manage, and they’ve always gone off pretty smoothly. I have a strong relationship with LUSU and I think that’s useful – I always think advice and prevention are better than locking people up.

Last night the Psychoactive Substances Bill came into effect, criminalising things like legal highs and laughing gas. What are your thoughts on the bill, and what do you think about drug use amongst students?

Something that’s always got me is that those legal highs aren’t legal insomuch as they’re just untested and not-yet-illegal – people think they’re ‘legal’ so they must be fine when in reality they can be very dangerous. So I think the bill is really good.

As for student drug use, I think everyone, from any walk of life, is going to want to experiment. If someone wants to take an illegal substance that was cooked up in someone’s shed and could contain brick dust or broken glass or whatever else, that’s their decision. The idea that students are somehow more likely to do drugs seems to me a bit unfair.

Do you think joining the Special Constabulary is a good idea for students, especially those who may be interested in a police career?

I think joining the Specials is something I would encourage anyone who’s interested to do it straight way, from their first year if possible. Every student Special I’ve worked with has been absolutely fantastic and I think they have a lot of fun and get a lot out of it. It really is beneficial for both parties. There’s a lass I work with now who’s absolutely brilliant, and there was one lad before who played for the Panthers who was great.

What are some of the biggest events in the student calendar for you?

I always make up an entire operation during Freshers’ Week, and another for Extrav Week. I love Extravs. Fylde’s theme last year was 999: What’s Your Emergency and I took a selfie with the crowd from the stage. That was fantastic.

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“I took all the people there in police costumes as quite a compliment”#

Think you’ll still come now you’re free of uni?

Oh, I’ll still always be around, visiting people. I have lots of friends here now, and I really do enjoy Extravs.

What one piece of advice would you like to give to your successor?

Be patient. Work with people. There’s no point locking students up for x, y and z. Everyone has options, and taking them is up to them. If they choose an illegal option then that’s on them, but you should always give opportunities for people to improve.

Good working relationships are important – we’ve made leaps and bounds these last few years in regards to our use of the deanery system and fines rather than arrests to deter behaviour.

And to the students? What would you love them to stop doing, or start doing?

I really wish students would know their limits for alcohol. Too many seem to think they can just keep drinking and drinking and drinking. Seeing someone unable to stand, or with their mates pouring drinks down their throat—and I have seen that—always upsets me.

Ideally, I’d say don’t let them get that way in the first place, but realistically I’d say just always look out for your mates and make sure they’re okay. Take them home if they’ve had too much.

Also, I’m sure students won’t think so but the deans here are ace and really are very fair.

Closing thoughts on your tenure as campus cop?

I feel I’ve always looked for options with dealing with students. I always tried to avoid unnecessary punishments and give people an opportunity to improve. I think diplomacy has worked really well up here and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.