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Why Inviting Police onto Campus is Not Reassuring

University of Sussex campus buildings, superimposed with a transparency of a large police tape image

On Thursday 5 November University of Sussex Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell wrote to all staff announcing a heightened police presence on campus. Having explained that last Saturday saw “a very heavy Police presence on campus” because of “incidents involving Sussex students’”, the Vice Chancellor confirmed that the police have now been invited to patrol campus. He writes that local Police are “working with our security team with some evening patrols which are aimed at reassuring everyone and preventing problems from developing.”

The increased presence of police on campus is neither reassuring nor likely to prevent problems from developing. In fact, securitising campus and increasing the physical presence of police is deeply unnerving and troubling for many, particularly in light of ongoing and serious systemic issues with police racism and violence, exposed anew by this year’s Black Lives Matter protests across the UK. Inviting police to patrol our campus opens up serious problems with respect to student safety, mental health, and welfare. As Sussex campus unions, we write publicly to demand that the police presence on our campus be ended with immediate effect. We set out our reasons for this below.

Negative experiences of Police intervention this week

At the Sussex University Student Experience Forum on 5 November, the University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) and the Director of Student Experience, Jayne Aldridge, heard about some of the negative experiences students had already faced on campus as a result of police presence. This included some disturbing stories of police officers bursting into students’ rooms in campus accommodation earlier this week. Multiple student reps who were present indicated a strong preference for the involvement of campus security (rather than the police), alongside internal processes to address issues relating to student behaviour on campus. Knowledge of the fact that police are able to wield their power to use state-sanctioned violence causes distress for many students, in particular those from groups who have historically had bad experiences with the police and state authorities.

Hostile environment

Universities are environments where surveillance is increasing, due to regulations such as the Prevent counter-terrorism duty, as well as the requirements of immigration legislation that are part of the ‘hostile environment’ fostered by the UK government. Increased police presence on campus is of particular concern to those who are targeted by these policies of surveillance. This includes Muslim communities which have been subject to increased discrimination because of Prevent. It includes Black students who are much more likely to be subject to racial profiling: indeed, in June 2020, Sussex Police were accused of institutional racism after figures showed they were 12 times more likely to stop and search Black people than people of other racialised groups. It includes students on Tier 4 visas who have been targeted by forms of over-enforcement (including being forced to register with local police upon arrival at university), which the UN has said are in opposition to human rights law.

This summer, the Home Office has ramped up the detention of asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, and others caught in the hairs of the hostile environment in the wake of a rise in channel crossings and anti-migrant sentiment, and this inevitably is part of the context for migrants’ experiences of UK policing. We have heard directly from students on Tier 4 visas living on campus that the presence of police outside of their student halls in the middle of the night is distressing, both because of past experiences with police in their home countries and because of the implicit threat of visa curtailment and removal from the UK that can come from negative encounters with law enforcement once they are here.

In light of institutional statements about Black Lives Matter and the University's purported commitment to race equality, as well as its professed values, university management should consider the disproportionate impact of such tactics on both home and international students who may already feel 'out of place' on campus. A recent research report into police presence in English secondary schools concluded that increasing the presence of school-based police officers would have a detrimental impact upon the safety and wellbeing of Black and ethnic minority (BME) pupils. There is no reason to think this would not also be the case in universities.

Holding Sussex to its Values and its Duty of Care

Inviting police to patrol campus is in direct opposition to the University’s stated values of kindness and inclusion, given the serious issues with police and Home Office racism and brutality that we describe above. Furthermore, if Sussex really is a community, our community leaders should be seeking to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown through good communication, collaboration and trust, not through criminal punishment. Students have been invited to live and study on campus in this pandemic, despite all the risks, and they are now in lockdown as infection rates rise. The University’s duty of care towards both these students and the wider community cannot be fulfilled - and is indeed contravened - by shifting the blame and subjecting already vulnerable, anxious and frightened young people to criminalisation, surveillance, intrusion and the threat of violence.

In its own Black Lives Matter statement published 15 June 2020, the University’s Executive acknowledged that ‘whilst we are right to call for accountability and justice where Black people die prematurely after encounters with the police, it is our responsibility as a university to be clear that there can be no neutral ground towards racist practices wherever they are found, including in our own institution’. On this basis, the Executive then committed to ‘recognise uncomfortable truths in our own university’ and to become an institution that ‘embodies its anti-racist values, requirements and obligations’.

To put into meaningful practice Sussex’s stated commitment to these values and uncomfortable truths, and to protect student safety and welfare, the police presence on our campus must be ended with immediate effect and a commitment made that police will not again be invited to patrol campus. We call on the University to trust its own students and staff to take the lead in making its campus safe for all.

Sussex UCU and USSU


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