Australian campuses reflect many of the characteristics and differences of the wider population and breaking down barriers and fears is important to enhancing the safety, security and well-being. To showcase some of the proactive and collaborative approaches, including the ‘Police on Campus’ pilot at Monash University, we spoke to Dr Helen Forbes-Mewett before her address at the 8th Annual Campus Security & Safety Conference being held in June. Helen is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University, as well as a Research Associate of the Center on Violence at West Virginia University, USA. Her research focuses on human security and social inclusion, spanning education, international relations, organisations, work and communities in terms of cultural diversity, safety and crime.
Can you tell me about your work as a researcher at Monash University?
For the past decade I have researched safety and security issues concerning diverse cultural groups with a focus on international students and migrant populations. The fact that Australia is a nation built on migration means we have a great need to understand the characteristics and differences of the many groups that form our population. Similarly, there is great need to understand the interface between the diverse groups and individual and community safety and security. My most recent project was a four-year Australian Research Council funded project that produced knowledge about international student experiences with crime. The project explored the nature and extent of the problem and informed preventative strategies that could be implemented by education institutions, crime prevention personnel, as well as students and their families. My research is translational in that it presents empirical findings to enhance well-being, safety and security.
Police on campus is not very common on Australian campuses. Can you tell me a bit about how the initiative came about?
The ‘Police on Campus’ pilot program was the initiative of a member of the Victoria Police. It was a response to community tensions relating to cultural differences and police in the Monash Local Government Area (LGA). It was recognised that Monash University has a large and culturally diverse community that formed a significant component of the wider Monash LGA. The demographic makeup of Monash University provides an ideal setting to break down barriers between police and different cultural groups. With student numbers from diverse backgrounds likely to increase by thousands in the next few years, it made good sense to instigate the notion of community policing on campus with a view to enhancing student-police relations. The on campus policing program was designed to counter under-reporting of crime, breakdown cultural barriers, and to reinforce the notion that police on campus are approachable and helpful. It was thought that the program may also serve as a recruitment process to increase the number of police officers from diverse cultural backgrounds.
What are the benefits of having police on campus as opposed to the system Australian colleges and Universities currently implement?
Police on campus play a crucial role in breaking down barriers by providing help and services that demonstrate their approachability. For instance, a student from a country or community where police are feared will benefit from becoming accustomed to seeing uniformed officers on a regular basis offering a service on campus. The current system implemented by Australian Universities and colleges appears extremely well-designed and implemented. The benefit of police on campus, however, will complement the existing system in the contemporary era of risk where safety and security issues need to be addressed through collaborative approaches that reach beyond the campus boundaries into the wider culturally diverse communities. Developing circumstances where police are viewed as a normal and important part of the university setting by thousands of students is a proactive approach to breaking down cultural differences and barriers of fear.
What can Australia learn from other countries that already utilise police on campus?
There is much to learn from other countries where police are an important part of the university setting. I have observed in the US that students generally do not hesitate to approach the police for help ranging from reporting a lost passport or getting documents signed to more serious incidences involving criminal offences. Notwithstanding Australia’s different security culture, there are programs in the US in particular that could be successfully adapted to the Australian environment. I refer to police community outreach programs where uniformed officers organise events specifically designed to develop positive relations with students from many and varied backgrounds.
Are there any presentations at the Campus Security and Safety Conference that you would like to see and why?
I am extremely interested in all the presentations listed on the 2016 program as they relate directly to my work. The International Keynote Address from Lt. John Weinstein, Active Shooter presentations and the Security Panel are of particular interest as they relate to the contemporary era of risk and my current research undertakings. These presentations will offer new insights into what is now required for adequate safety and security provision. Furthermore, the Pre-Conference Workshop is a unique opportunity to learn new skills. Knowing how to deal with difficult people and defusing toxic situations are useful everyday skills. There is always room for more effective communication.
Dr Helen Forbes-Mewett will discuss Monash University’s Police on Campus pilot program in further detail at the upcoming 8th Annual Campus Security & Safety Conference. For more information, including the current agenda, please head to our website.