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International Exchange Article

International Exchange Article

International Exchange Report: AUCSO/IACLEA Exchange Visit 2016: Queen's University Belfast


By Jay Gruber, Chief of Police, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

This article complements the report by Richard Sheridan, assistant estates manager, Queen's University Belfast, about his visit to Georgetown University. Sheridan's article was published in the March/April 2017 issue of the Campus Law Enforcement Journal. 

It is often said that the United States and Great Britain are two countries divided by a common language. I agree to a certain extent. But we are also two nations with a great deal in common.  My trip to Queen's University, located in Belfast, Northern Ireland, proved that we have much in common. The Georgetown University Police Department and the Queen's University Security Department (QUSD) had many similarities that will be touched upon in this article. The differences, some cultural and some legislated, helped frame for me things about higher education law enforcement I had not considered.

The flight on November 11, 2016, from the United States to Belfast was uneventful. After my host Richard Sheridan picked me up at the airport, we had tea and scones with his family. My visit to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland had officially started!

Queen's University Belfast (QUB) is a large, research institution located in the heart of Belfast.  QUB has both a contiguous campus and property around the university in off-campus municipal area. QUB is the largest institution of higher education in Northern Ireland, with more than 23,000 students and more than 4,000 academic and administrative staff.

My objectives for the visit were pretty straightforward. I was interested in seeing:

  1. How technology was utilized to keep the campus safe and make operations for the security department more efficient
  2. How QUB and the Northern Ireland police managed sexual assaults
  3. How the Northern Ireland police supported the QUB Security Department
  4. Court and judicial operations
  5. The overall operations of the QUB Security Department and how they keep the university safe.

My visit to Queen's, as it is called, began with a tour of the campus. It is a beautiful, mid-size, urban campus with, as mentioned earlier, both a contiguous campus and off-campus properties, buildings, and student housing. There are no fences or controls keeping non-affiliates from walking onto the campus. The campus has both historic and modern buildings and has been adding buildings regularly for the past five years.

The Security Department occupies a small footprint on the ground level of an administrative building, smaller than most police or security departments in the United States. The center of the department is the Control Room. What the department may lack in physical size it makes up in technology. The CCTV and alarm and access control systems would rival any U.S.-based higher education police or security department. The Control Room operates 24 hours a day with the help of automated systems. All security officers wear body cameras that are turned into the Control Room at the end of the shift; then the video is downloaded and processed. Considering most university police departments do not use body cameras, Queen's is far ahead in this aspect.

I was impressed by the long tenures of the security staff at Queen's. In the United States, campus security departments tend to have a fairly high turnover rate.  At Queen's, this was the opposite case. They have a very low turnover rate, and officers stayed on for multiple years, spanning decades. This is enviable and increases the knowledge of campus and institutional memory and benefits interactions with the community.

During business and early evening hours, the Security Department is very present on campus.  They staff a number of static posts and have security officers who are mobile on the campus.  Staffing changes during the late evening and overnight hours, when a contract security force manages security for the campus with the exception of a Queens's supervisor and the Control Room staff. This is an unusual arrangement, but seems to fit the needs of Queen's. I let my hosts know that this type of arrangement, although common in Northern Ireland and Ireland, would not work well with the model of campus policing in the United States for a number of reasons. The main drawback is that many of our police officers have arrest powers, and the consistency of enforcement and response are essential in maintaining order.

One constant, though, is the support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). QUB security officers are not armed with either lethal or less-lethal weapons and do not have the power of arrest. The Queen's University Security Department requires the support of the PSNI for any issues that involve criminal activity. The ubiquitous presence of the PSNI on and near campus provides a layer of support for the QUSD. From my observations, it is obvious that the PSNI officers and the Queen's University Security Department leadership have true mutual respect and a close working relationship.

A highlight of the first day was a tour of Belfast with police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The PSNI is the only fully armed police service in Great Britain. The tour was given in an unmarked armored police vehicle. Although the "Troubles," or major unrest in Northern Ireland, ended almost two decades ago, some unrest remains, and there are still vestiges of resentment toward the police, especially in West Belfast. Armored police sedans are still a necessity. One of the officers, who grew up in West Belfast, helped to provide some history and context to the turmoil of late 20th century Northern Ireland.

An important part of my visit revolved around how QUSD and the PSNI deal with issues around sexual assault. Nothing resembling Title IX exists in Northern Ireland. But the extent of cooperation between the QUSD and PSNI in the area of sexual assault was nothing short of remarkable. The Detective Sergeant who manages the sexual assault cases in the area that encompasses Queen's University Belfast maintains a regular and professional relationship with QUSD leadership.

The sexual assault investigation process is proactive, logical, and timely, beginning with first contact with the victim through the investigation and eventual prosecution. The initial responding police officer completes a comprehensive logbook that contains all of the information that the sexual assault detective will need to begin the investigation.  

One of the greatest assets to both the PSNI and the sexual assault victim is a facility called The Rowan. The Rowan is a purpose-built facility that provides the victim a place to be interviewed, provided with medical care, a forensic examination with evidence collection, as well as follow-up support and treatment. The facility is located on hospital grounds, but is discreetly positioned and masked by landscaping. The PSNI has the ability to record interviews in purpose-built, comfortable interview rooms that contain state-of-the-art recording equipment. The victim, while waiting for their exam and interview, is placed in a private pod complete with a private garden where they can step out for fresh air and a short break.

In the United States these types of facilities are normally located in hospitals, many times as an afterthought. Although the programs in the United States, including the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) are effective, The Rowan encapsulates everything that the sexual assault survivor, police, and the Forensic Medical Officer (FMO) need to successfully conduct the necessary procedures for sexual assault cases.

I had an opportunity to visit the Laganside Courts complex, which contains a multitude of services to include the Crown Courts and Magistrate Courts. It was interesting to watch how the cases were handled in both courts. It was similar in many ways to U.S. courts—with the exception of the wigs and robes that the barristers, solicitors, and judges wear.  

Another very unique feature of the courts was the assistance provided to witnesses and victims. Victim Services Northern Ireland (VSNI) provides for numerous needs, to include transportation for victims and witnesses to and from court, if needed, a place to sit before and during trial that is comfortable and has tea and coffee, courtroom familiarization, and supportive staff who work with the victim or witness to meet all of their needs. The VSNI volunteers who I met at the Laganside Courts were incredibly empathetic and supportive of their charges. This is unlike any model that I know of in the United States.

QUSD and the PSNI Security Branch, which among many things provides counterterrorism security and infrastructure advice, have formed a unique partnership in the area of security infrastructure. When QUSD is in the planning stages of a new building construction project, they look to the PSNI Security Branch for support in the design of the security infrastructure to include alarms, access control, and CCTV.  This has been especially helpful when critical infrastructure such as Bio Safety Level 2 and 3 labs are being designed and built. The PSNI Security Branch official provides the security specifications to the architect and then follows up on the project to ensure that all security criteria have been met. In the United States this responsibility is usually left to an entity at the university that may or may not be in the police or public safety department.

Another great opportunity provided to me was attending the AUCSO (Association of University Chief Security Officers) regional meeting in Dublin, Ireland. The conversations and business of the meeting sounded very familiar. Issues involving training and legislation were among many topics discussed that were similar in nature to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area meetings that I normally attend.

The afternoon speaker was a member of the Garda (Ireland's National Police Service). The topic was response to an active shooter/active aggressor threat at a university or college in Ireland.  It is important to note that throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom campus security department personnel are not armed. And, with the exception of Northern Ireland, most police officers are not armed with firearms. There is total dependence on Regional Support Units (RSU) or Emergency Response Units (ESU) who will respond with an array of firearms and less-lethal weapons.

Although the college and university security departments are well versed in responding to a variety of emergency situations, response to an active shooter/active aggressor event is something for which they have not planned. There was debate as to whether the colleges or universities should focus efforts on this type of scenario, due to its being unlikely, or to continue to focus on a general all-hazards approach to emergency situations. The Garda ESU representative speaking at the meeting was well versed in the active shooter programs and protocols that exist in the United States and was very interested in seeing how these could be adopted in Ireland. I was able to provide a good deal of information and context on how U.S. programs work and our mindset in adopting these programs based on the increased threat environment that the U.S universities face from this type of crime.

Another interesting and informative part of the trip was meeting with a couple of the vendors that QUSD uses to support its operations. QUSD uses a cash-handling service for all of their cash pick-up and drop-off needs. The systems, trucks, and facilities are all state of the art and use security technology to the highest level that I have seen for an armored car service. Their support from the PSNI is at all levels of their service. A far cry from the way these services work in the United States.

I was also able to meet with one of the automation vendors that provides products and support for keys and other police/security equipment. As I mentioned earlier, the university security departments in Northern Ireland and Ireland leverage an array of security technologies in their departments that rival most U.S.-based university police and security departments.

One of the final highlights of the trip was a tour of the Crumlin Road Jail. The jail, which functioned from 1845 to 1996, was the location where many of the republicans and loyalists during the time of the "Troubles" were housed. In looking at Northern Ireland today, it is difficult to believe that the "Troubles' ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. My trip to Queen's University Belfast would not have been possible 20 years ago, as my personal safety would have been in question.

The trip was a huge success in no small part due to the preparation, openness, and hospitality of Richard, the leadership of the security department, and the overall university leadership. In the relatively small world of higher education policing and security, having the ability to see how this type of work is performed in a totally different environment provides unique insight and perspective. The similarities of our universities and the work that we perform far outweighed any difference that we had. Protecting the community and the university is a task that does not change based on where your university is located.

The relationship that I have with the Security Department at Queen's University will last a lifetime.


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