Comment: “Do YOU feel safe on the Parkwood Path?”
Emma Richards discusses the recent news that an online petition to install additional CCTV on the Parkwood Path has been created, and asks “Do YOU feel safe on the Parkwood Path?”
Many of you are probably aware of the recent petition in change.org: ‘Install CCTV on Parkwood Path.’ ‘About time too!’ some of you may have replied (or words to that effect).
The long, winding path through the woods has been the scene of multiple actual and attempted assaults over the past year. It is also the route which students living in Parkwood trudge all hours of the day to get to their lectures, the library and The Venue. The incredible response to the petition- 1713 signatures and counting- leaves no doubt as to how vulnerable students feel when walking through this part of the campus.
Well, I have news for you: the University has confirmed that there is already CCTV in this area. The exact locational details courtesy of Campus Watch: One camera at either end of the path and a ‘roaming’ camera.
So, if that is the case, do we still need the petition? And why do these horrific incidents keep on happening?
Firstly, the fact that I did not notice the cameras on the Parkwood path, despite having walked up and down it multiple times during my first year at Kent, makes it clear that their presence alone is not enough to act as a deterrent. Unless we mark it loud and clear that there is CCTV in this area, and, yes, you WILL be watched, people will just assume the area is not monitored. Therefore, they are given free rein to do whatever they like, as they believe they will not be caught, at least on camera.
Which may not be too far from the truth: Anyone familiar with the Parkwood path will also tell you that it a) curves in the middle, and b) branches into two sections at the Parkwood end, depending on which court you are living in. Therefore, the current ‘one at each end’ strategy (which end?) does not provide sufficient coverage. The roaming camera may go partway to solving this problem, but its eyes are far from Orwellian. Not to mention the various ‘unofficial’ access points to the path which may be used by attackers, or by students who have had too much to drink and are not conscious of their own safety.
So why did it take a student’s petition on facebook to bring these shortcomings to light?
To me, it seems to be a classic ‘heads in the sand’ issue. To question the safety of the path and explicitly declare a CCTV presence may well scare potential students, but surely the University’s priority should be to protect and inform existing path users? As petition founder Samuel Betz commented on facebook: ‘The University just wants to kick this issue into the long grass because it’s bad PR for them, at the expense of the safety of students. I am determined to make sure that is no longer possible for them.’
Meanwhile, the University says that there are sufficient security measures in place: Drink less, travel as a group, carry personal alarms, use the Campus Watch escort service, or get the night buses or a taxi back.
However, these options are not always possible. The night buses only run hourly, and taxis are unaffordable for students struggling to scrape together enough coppers for rent and a can of beans. Not everyone goes out as a group: some innocent individuals may be returning from a late night session at the library, which is more likely than ever now that the Templeman is open 24/7. The Campus Watch escort service was set up to protect young women, but would that be enough to deter armed attackers, as happened in one recent incident where the victims were male? And being sober will not stop someone from seeing you as a handy target: invisibility and isolation are the deciding factors.
Of course more monitoring is only part of the solution. We need to raise awareness of assault and teach self-protection strategies. We need more night buses which run to Parkwood and a broadening of the escort service to cover all vulnerable individuals. If campus watch could patrol the path regularly, like they did in the icy winter of 2012/2013, then so much the better.
A comprehensive CCTV presence covering ALL areas of the Parkwood footpath will give the message that crime there will NOT be tolerated.
You can access the petition on change.org at http://www.change.org/p/the-university-of-kent-install-cctv-on-parkwood-path