How bad is student crime in your area – and what should SUs do about it?

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

This month sees many students move into new accommodation, and changes to recruitment patterns mean some may still be trying to find the right place.

Though the popular image of student accommodation (among ministers, at least) is the hall of residence – a lot of students rent in the private sector, most university towns and cities have a number of well understood “student areas”, and each of these will have their own – largely mythic – reputation among students.

There’s hundreds of these stories passed from cohort to cohort – for example the other month saw Ella Gauci write for The Tab about York’s legendary Tang Hall.

Like many student areas it appears to have garnered a reputation for crime and anti-social behaviour, and although Ella clearly loves living there I would expect that many students have been put off because of an unsavoury reputation.

Every university has an area like this, and rumours and stereotypes mean that once an area has a reputation it is very hard to lose it. But if there is a major crime issue in an area, that’s a major student interest issue that Sus should be lobbying local police (including Police and Crime Commissioners) to intervene on. So to try to test the veracity of some of these media stories, I’ve turned to data.

What is a hotspot not?

Specifically, I’m looking at Home Office police data, handily available from police.uk. This shows the location and type of crime for a given month – I’ve chosen September 2020 as an indicator (round about the last time students were moving house last year).

The left-hand side of this dashboard plots the number of reported crimes that month against my usual indicator of the number of students in term time residence, the right hand side is a map that shows the location of each area.

I’m at LSOA resolution, so we are looking at areas with between 1,000 to 3,000 residents in total split between 400 to 1,200 households.

[Full screen]

We can see here that there is far more crime in York City Centre than in Tang Hill, and the latter also compares well to other student areas such as Fulford and Heslington.

But we can do better than that.

Crimes and punishments

This chart lets you look at the individual reported crimes for each area – even within a place as small as an LSOA there may be places to avoid and if you are going to live nearby it is worth knowing about it.

Again, we’re looking at crime data from September 2020 – click on one of the dots on the left to see the area in detail, and view the individual crime reports, in the map on the right.

[Full screen]

It is very easy to get scared looking at data like this, so you need to be clear that you are looking at one entire month of data and that the crime categories don’t tell you anything about the severity of an event.

That said, the main reason I’m showing you this is to put facts into the largely mythological reputations that some areas of university towns and cities have. Sadly, there is some crime everywhere – densely populated, built up, and busy areas tend to have more crime than rural areas.

It’s also worth noting that there is no relationship between the numbers of students in a small area and the amount of reported crime.

You can look at any part of England and Wales, but there are two caveats with this dataset – Greater Manchester Police have not submitted data since about 2018, so you won’t be able to view anything for that part of England. And data inconsistencies means that it is slightly harder to view data in Wales – I can only let you see the whole of Wales as a single area, which you can get to by selecting “null” (sorry) on the drop down.

What to do if you have concerns?

Traditionally SU work on crime has been about advising students on how to avoid being a victim of crime – but there’s probably more that can be done by the Police both on prevention and enforcement.

The public – including SUs – can contact their police and crime commissioner (PCC) to make a suggestion or a complaint about how the local area is policed. PCCs are elected to make sure that local police meet the needs of the community.

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