Moving away from home and starting a new life is a challenging thing for anyone to do. When you multiply that by hundreds of people, you start to realise the kind of challenge that comes with policing Freshers’ Fortnight.
As a licensing officer, my role is to work alongside licensed premises in Luton to ensure that the night-time economy are policed effectively and that venues are working within the law, to promote the prevention of crime and disorder.
But, for two weeks a year, we see hundreds of new students descend upon the nightlife hotspots of Luton and Bedford and it’s our role to ensure they stay safe and – wherever possible – sensible.
I used to work in Response, which is a different challenge entirely from the one I face now. But at the heart of both roles is my duty to protect people and keep them safe.
Over the past two weeks during Freshers’ Fortnight, I’ve helped steward as many as 700 revelling youngsters at a time.
The main thing I’ve noticed that’s changed over time is the amount of young people grabbing us for ‘selfies’. They all want to stop and take a photo with the police officers – just one part of documenting their new experience into university life.
No one has been horrible to us – I think ultimately they’re grateful to us for being there. A lot of them say we do a fantastic job and want to speak to us about what life is like working as a police officer. Some students have questioned if something has been happened when they see us, we have had to explain that we are there to keep them safe and prevent incidents happening.
Occasionally the more politically-minded will want to debate the issues about policing – I think they sometimes want to get a reaction out of us. We may be their public servants, but we only want to make sure they are safe.
There is a culture of ‘pre-loading’ these days, which means students aren’t even leaving their digs until almost midnight. That presents an extra challenge for officers, when some people are in more than good spirits (no pun intended).
We’ve seen more than our fair share of ‘chundering’ over the last two weeks, but thankfully between ourselves, the volunteer Freshers’ Angels and the Luton SOS team we’ve managed to make sure everyone gets home safely – either in a group with friends or by using a licensed taxi.
A couple of students have been taken home courtesy of our police van, for their own safety. For most, the journey home is usually punctuated by a stop at one of the local takeaways, who we also work with to help identify anyone who may be in need of help.
I feel very lucky to have been supported by a fantastic and dedicated team, including volunteer Special Constables, and to be a part of the wider family of partners who are each involved in Freshers’ Fortnight. I am really pleased that the two weeks in Luton went incident free and no arrests were necessary.
It’s great that the management of the Luton Uni Lounge, Sub2 and Yates’ along with other nightspots in Luton allow me to drop in, have a coffee and share any concerns, and that together we can continue to support new students as they embark on a new life in Bedfordshire.
Esther Read has been a licensing officer for Bedfordshire Police for almost two years, previously occupying a role in response.
Although Freshers’ Fortnight has come to a close, we’d still advise students to continue to enjoy nights out and alcohol safely and responsibly.
Here are some more top safety tips from the force to help Freshers’ and returning students stay safe this term:
- Try to avoid walking home alone at night. Wherever possible, use public transport and travel with friends. Never accept a lift from someone you don’t know.
- Don’t walk along talking on your mobile phone. You may not be fully aware of what is going on around you.
- When going out, only take with you the money you need for the night, and keep your wallet or purse somewhere safe.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers and never leave your drink unattended.
Never share access codes for halls of residence with anyone who is not a resident of your house, flat or halls of residence.
- Always lock doors and windows before you leave your halls or student house, and leave valuables well out of sight.
- Remember that if someone is incapacitated due to drink or drugs, they are not capable of consenting to sexual activity. If you pursue it, you are committing a crime. Find out more here.
- Seek advice and report incidents of domestic abuse to police if you feel you are being degraded, humiliated, belittled or mentally, physically or verbally abused by a partner while at university. Find out more here.
- If you feel at risk from radicalisation or know of someone who may be vulnerable to becoming involved in extremism or terrorism, seek advice from the Let’s Talk About website.