Local police chief talked to residents and partners at a Police Neighbourhood Tasking Meeting about intentions to tackle violent crime, which has reduced significantly compared to last year.
Following the release of statistics by Selly Oak Police, which showed burglary to be down by an average of 35 per cent over the last three months, Sergeant Simon Williams insisted that his team of officers were working hard to ensure that Selly Oak remains a safe environment.
The news comes after police are still investigating a burglary that occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning.
But, Williams was keen to remind those who attended the meeting that just four houses had been targeted by burglars since September, in comparison with over ten times this amount in the same period last year.
Giving advice to those who might be concerned, he urged people to ensure that their doors, windows and gates were kept locked, even when in the house, to prevent the opportunity to would be criminals.
Positive news was also received with the announcement that £14,000 would be used to fund repairs to damaged gating, a common route of access for trespassers.
Of particular concern for residents at the meeting, was the noise pollution by students who have been holding larger house parties including the use of DJ’s and extensive sound systems. Sergeant Williams is urging students to appreciate that they share the area with their neighbours, insisting that ‘Selly Oak should be a safe place to live and work’ for everyone.
Burning Chat Interview
This is not the only advice he has recently been giving to students, he also spoke at length exclusively to us at BurnFM, on our campus and regional news show ‘Burning Chat’.
In an honest and revealing interview, he identified the risks involved in living in Selly Oak and the best action to take to avoid being a victim of crime, and also explained the thinking behind the #deepbreath campaign which has been a hot topic of discussion among students.
Alongside being busy keeping everyone secure, he also studies part time as a Masters student in Criminology at Cambridge, putting his brain to the test here are questions from our very own Emily Kay and Tara Dein:
Sergeant Williams, tell us about your role in Selly Oak.
SW: Good afternoon, thanks for having me on the show. I’m the local Sergeant of the neighbourhood policing team. I have a team of police officers and community support officers. We are here to prevent and deter crime, investigate offences, bring offenders to justice and to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, as well as making sure that trust and confidence in the police are as high as possible.
Do you think students in particular are more vulnerable to crime?
No, I don’t think students are more vulnerable to crime than any particular community group. What I would say is that it can be a really big change for students moving from halls of accommodation in first year to houses in Bournbrook. It can be a real challenge looking after personal and home safety, especially with a large group of people.
Who was the last one out? Has the door been locked? Has the window been locked? These are things that new students moving into the area need to bear in mind.
Perhaps students are conscious that for example, a house of seven people would mean seven laptops and seven phones, and they are nervous of being at risk?
You can see why that situation would be attractive to prospective to potential offenders. Selly Oak has historically been targeted, as student areas up and down the country often are for that reason.
My team and the West Midlands Police have worked really hard to reduce the level of burglary to what we are now seeing as record low levels.
We are lucky to have you in today because students often read into sensationalised stories on the internet. Is Selly Oak a safe place to live?
Yes, on the whole, Selly Oak is a really safe place to live in comparison with other areas across the West Midlands and Birmingham South as a whole.
We have had a number of burglaries since the start of the academic year. We class our riskiest period for burglaries as being between September and Christmas. During this time I focus on making sure I have the right people at the right time, doing the right things.
This year we have stepped our plan with additional officers working Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday every week on permanent late shifts. I was working with them until 4am this morning to make the area as safe and secure as possible.
Even though statistics are low, for some reason students still do seem to panic though?
Yes, and I do think that was highlighted last night (by a burglary which police are still investigating). But we have done a lot of work around what we call ‘target hardening’.
We now go into more student homes than ever with burglary packs, installing window alarms, door alarms, and giving crime prevention advice.
A big thing that we have been pushing is keeping communal gates locked, doors locked and windows locked – even when you are in – because it only takes a second for a would-be-thief to sneak in.
Last night on Tiverton Road, there was a burglary. That is only the fourth house that has been targeted by burglars in Bournbrook since the start of September. It goes to show that even though our statistics are at record low levels, the risk remains, and it is a real risk.
Is there a way that students can access information that can help them?
Absolutely, the best way to access regular information is to follow us on twitter @sellyoakpolice. You can also access the West Midlands Police website, Facebook ‘Birmingham Police’, and Birmingham South Partnership Team.
We work closely with local partners who have a stake in student life in Selly Oak. At the moment I chair a meeting with the Guild of Students, the University, housing providers, Birmingham City Council, anti-social behaviour teams, and other police teams.
We also have Neighbourhood Tasking Meetings every month in Selly Oak that we now stream online and you can get involved and interact with those (the next of these is on Monday 22nd December at the Christian Life Centre).
…And you also have a blog?
Yes, the partnership I was just talking about is wrapped up in the lovesellyoak.com website where you can find information about how you can keep yourself safer.
Tell us, what is the process of reporting a crime?
It depends on what it is. If you see a crime in action or something taking place in front of you, you would need to phone 999 straight away.
If it is not an emergency and does not require an immediate police response, call us on 101, or via the West Midlands Police (WMP) website, where you can find further details such as e-mail addresses for your local team.
I want to talk about the breathalyse alcohol campaign, which has raised some controversy among students. Tell us what the aim of the campaign is.
Let me make it clear that there is no agenda. We are not working with the Guild of Students or any pubs in Selly Oak to bring them extra revenue which is one of the myths that have been circulated.
This is purely about trying something different. It is about putting breathalysers in the hands of door supervisors, particularly at the Guild of Students, but also at pub venues in Selly Oak. The aim is to breathalyse people on entry to make sure they haven’t had too much (to drink).
You have to bear in mind licencing laws that make it an offence to serve people alcohol who are drunk. The whole point of this is: firstly to reduce the number of victims of violent crime, and secondly to raise awareness around alcohol crime.
Talking about the first issue, this time last year, analysts at the WMP told me I had a chronic ‘public place violence’ issue. We looked at the data, and found that a quarter of our victims were students, and that alcohol was an aggravating factor.
We have put hotspot patrols in place over the last year around venues in Selly Oak which has reduced violent crime by a fifth compared to this time last year. What I wanted to do this year was put a preventative measure in place. Looking around the country, we saw that police in Norfolk, who also deal with a large student community, used a similar scheme. There, by putting breath kits on doors of clubs and pubs, they reduced alcohol related arrests by 66 per cent and the number of violent crimes by 32 per cent.
Here, it is an experiment we are running until the end of December to try and reduce the number of victims of violent crime by making sure people aren’t putting themselves in a vulnerable position where they aren’t necessarily in control of what they are doing. On the second part, on awareness of alcohol harm – the cost to the city of Birmingham of alcohol related issues is around £55 million – a significant proportion of the city’s budget.
I have a quote (from the Selly Oak Neighbourhood Police Team) that says ‘with a new culture of pre-drinking, students are unaware of how intoxicated they are before they go out’.
How do we keep the balance between being a student and staying safe and aware?
That’s a really good question, and I want to make it clear that the police are not the ‘fun-police’, we have all been there and we get it! (Laughs).
Our aim is for Selly Oak to be a safe place to live, work, study and to go out and have a good time. People just need to be a little bit more responsible with regards to the levels of alcohol they are consuming.
So what are our responsibilities as members of the Selly Oak community? Obviously, we share the area with non-student residents. Do you think we are considerate enough?
You’re right, Selly Oak is a really diverse place. There are young families, young professionals, and people who have lived here for generations.
Do I think that the student community is always as considerate as it could be? No, it isn’t.
We get that students want to enjoy themselves and there is a reason why this University was voted University of the Year in 2013. My questions would be: do you know your neighbours? If you were in your community at home, would you behave in the same way? Would you have very loud house parties until 5am?
If your neighbour had a fire alarm going off, would you ring the police? I would like to think that you would. I want to see more community cohesion and to see people taking a bit more civic responsibility.
We have heard about an ongoing investigation into a shooting in the Warwards Lane area last week, can you shed any more light on this?
I can’t go into huge amounts of detail on this. I can re-assure you that the people that were involved in that offence do not live or have any connection to Selly Oak, they were just passing through the area at the time.
So we are not going to see a spate of this type of crime in Selly Oak?
No, absolutely not.
Finally then, we would just like to ask you if you have any particular advice for students living in Selly Oak? Any wisdom, or life advice?
Yes. As far as your personal property is concerned, you should be aware. Especially as we come up to Christmas, some advice would be to leave timer switches on your lights (you can pick these up for free from the police room in University Centre – see twitter for more publicity of this and other crime prevention devices available), or leave a TV or a radio switched on. Take all of your valuables home with you.
Enjoy Selly Oak and have fun.
Thank you for coming on Burning Chat today.
Photo credits: lovesellyoak.com