The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

‘Night Owl’ scheme receives widespread criticism

One student described the proposed ‘Night Owl’ scheme as “almost offensive to anyone that’s been assaulted, threatened, stabbed or mugged”

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The ‘Night Owl’ safety scheme proposed by the Students’ Union has come under fire this week, with many students in the Fallowfield area raising concerns about how efficient it would be and how it would safeguard the volunteers.

On the 31st of October,  The Mancunion reported that the scheme would be launched in early 2018, following an initial period of consultation.

The Students’ Union Communities Officer, Jack Houghton, said: “The union’s [‘Night Owl’] plan will provide self-defence training, bystander training, first aid training and advice training to ensure the safety of students. We will also be setting up an office to support students whilst on a night out. For example, to track volunteer locations and to maintain contact with police and security services during patrols.

“Between now and December I will be putting on consultation sessions with students so as to gain an idea of what people want the scheme to look like and whether they agree with the Students’ Union’s plan.”

After a petition titled “Greater Manchester Police & Andy Burnham: help us to make Fallowfield safe for students!” was signed by over 8,000 students and an investigation by The Mancunion suggested that students increasingly rely on Facebook for anecdotal advice about staying safe in South Manchester, the ‘Night Owl’ scheme is part of the Students’ Union’s response to make the streets feel safer for students.

The proposed ‘Night Owl’ scheme was heavily criticised by some Manchester students. Jack Joscelyne, a Law student at the University of Manchester Law, said: “so instead of police patrols we’re going to have vigilante students roaming about stopping crime?” This was in comment on Facebook and was liked by 52 people, suggesting it resonated with many others.

A Pharmacy student at the University of Manchester, Adam Jameson, said: “what difference is self defence going to make when you’re up against a group of blokes with machetes?”

Manchester University Philosophy student, Joe Martin, went as far as to say that the proposed ‘Night Owl’ scheme was “almost offensive to anyone that’s been assaulted, threatened, stabbed or mugged”, with another student adding that the ‘Night Owl’ scheme “really feels to me like it’s being organised by individuals who haven’t been on the receiving end of the situation that they’re trying to resolve.”

Despite the criticism of the proposal, there were some students who felt the scheme would be beneficial.

University of Manchester Chemistry student, Oliver Backhouse, responded to the criticism and said: “You’re all complaining that this is not going to solve the problem and that we need more police officers — but if you have half a brain…you’ll know that’s never gonna happen. What is wrong with volunteers trying to do their bit? Even if they make one person feel less vulnerable then it’s a success.”

Others students also had more nuanced views, with Rhianna Shaw, a Law with Criminology student at the University of Manchester, suggesting that “perhaps instead of using student volunteers use police volunteers, Police Specials have the same powers as regular officers and wear a similar uniform. They will also have better training. This is probably more of a deterrent than two students walking around in hi vis.”

In response to criticism and fears that students were to become substitutes for police in South Manchester, Jack Houghton said: “You are correct that increasing police numbers would help deal with the problem and is why Manchester Students’ Union is determined to fight for an increased police presence in student areas. However, it is important to remember that police numbers are at historically low levels.

“The result has meant that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have had to reduce police numbers everywhere in the city. As much as I would love to see the Government increase police funding for the UK, we must be proactive and assume the funding situation is not going to improve anytime soon.”

Jack added that the ‘Night Owl’ scheme “has worked really well at other Universities” and that it is “not supposed to be reactive and therefore will avoid putting themselves in direct danger.”

He said that “volunteers are trained in first-defence for a last resort only” and that the scheme “is not the only answer”, citing how the Students’ Union are “working on a safety app which has a discussion board for students to warn each other of crime reports, a map to plot the location of these crimes and all information on current student safety schemes. ”

He also added that the Students’ Union are “looking into hiring a Student Safety Officer at Manchester Student Union to focus on improving current schemes and setting up new ones and pointed out that “56,000 street lights [are] being replaced with LED bulbs in Manchester and we are fighting for new street lights on certain streets, alleyways and parks.”

Statistics issued by the Home Office on the 19th of October covering the 12-month period from July 2016 to June 2017 suggested that crime increased by 31 per cent in Greater Manchester in the last year.

In the region of Greater Manchester, violence against a person was indicated to have increased by 46 per cent over the 12-month period, sexual offences increased by 31 per cent, burglary increased by 14 per cent and robbery was suggested to have increased by 53 per cent.

In the summer of 2017, the Home Office asked Police and Crime Commissioners and Police Chiefs to assess the levels of strain and resilience of all 43 police forces across the country. It was suggested that extra £440m is required for 2018/19 and £845m in 2019/20 to combat rising crime and protest the public.

Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Beverley Hughes said: “These figures show that while pressures on the police are increasing, resources remain under great strain.  I have spoken out time and again about the need for more funding for our police and it’s clear that this pressure is felt across the country.

“Recorded crime is on the rise in Greater Manchester, with an overall increase of 31 per cent in the last year. Our police are committed to protecting the public, but the funding we receive is simply not enough given the increase in serious and complex crimes such as sexual and violent crime and the terrorist threat we face. I hope the Government will respond to these new figures and create a new settlement for policing.”

Given the polarised debate the proposed ‘Night Owl’ scheme has caused, Jack said: “I urge people interested in influencing how this scheme works to attend the Night Owl consultation session on 28th November”, adding that it is “really important to the Students’ Union that all your opinions are heard.”