Anti Social Cambridge: Violence, Theft and Drugs

Article First Published 30 October 2009 13 February 2012

The father of a student who comes from one of the most notoriously disorderly cities of Brazil discovered his child was coming to study in Cambridge and, concerned, enlisted her on a self defence course.

Admittedly, Cambridge is not quite so dangerous. Compared to other British cities and towns Cambridge’s crime rate is relatively low. In fact, according to the national police Crime Mapping service, Cambridge’s crime level is lower than Oxford’s, Cambridge’s slightly more urban Brother Rival.

However, as the international student who was attacked by a group of males on Barton Road on Sunday 18th of October found out, or the Caius student who had their laptop stolen from Chesterton Road on Sunday 25th, crime is still a real problem in Cambridge, which negatively affects the lives of thousands of staff, students, tourists and townsfolk each year.

It is also a problem that is particularly relevant to the University, in part due to its central location. According to the latest police statistics, Cambridge City West, which surrounds Market Square and the Castle and contains the majority of Cambridge colleges and faculties, has the highest local crime rate, with an average 387.3 crimes a month. This is slightly above the 354 crimes a month experienced by Cambridge City East, the home of Anglia Ruskin.

For the lonely yet lucky students of Homerton College, Cambridge City South – which includes much of Trumpington Street, Addenbrookes and Cherry Hinton – has the lowest crime rate, with an average 139 crimes a month.

By far the most frequent crime to affect Cambridge City West, and the majority of departments and colleges, is anti social behaviour, which comprised an average 187 crimes a month in the past twelve months. Violent crime came second with an average 63 crimes a month. Sidney Street, Market Street, St Andrews Street and Regents Street were identified in the Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Neighbourhood Profile as particular hotspots of this sort of crime, not least because of their proximity to the city’s clubs and pubs. Crime in these areas was most likely to occur between the hours of midnight and four in the morning.

The statistics point an accusative finger at alcohol. As Chris Lewis, University Security Advisor confirms, “alcohol is an issue in student security; it makes you less aware of what goes on around you and decreases your ability to react rationally”.

Violent crime is also closely connected to Cambridge’s open spaces. According to the Neighbourhood Profile it is the most frequent offence on Parker’s Piece and Christ’s Green. Midsummer Common and Jesus Green, on the other hand, are hotspots for drugs, though as even the police admit this assessment is somewhat distorted by the annual marijuana fuelled Strawberry Fair. At the time that the Neighbourhood Report was compiled, Strawberry Fair was responsible for half of all drugs related arrests in the area.

Histon Road was identified by the Cambridgeshire Constabulary in their June 2009 report as a recent hotspot for prostitution.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, stolen bikes made up the most frequent type of theft. According to the Neighbourhood Profile, Trinity College was the most affected of the university and college properties. The University is specifically targeted for bike crime, yet the Market is statistically the least safe place to leave your bike.

Bike theft isn’t the only crime to target the University and its buildings. The University departments in particular are the victims of attempted burglaries, not least because of the amount of valuable computing and technical equipment that they contain. This poses a significant challenge to University Security. As Chris Lewis elaborates, “the Chemistry Department has its particular threats in terms of substances as opposed to the Law and History Faculties”; “other items, including those in the museums, are valuable not just in terms of costs but also in terms of the history and nature of the articles”.

With the increasing importance of the Cambridge computer network to the activities of staff and students, it too is becoming an increasing target of crime. Correspondingly the Computer Service is an ever more important facet of University security.

According to the Computer Service’s User Policy Manager, the most common attack on students and staff is through phishing emails, which by mimicking banks or even the Computer Service itself; strive to gain access to email and bank accounts. About ten students and staff fall victims to these attacks a week.

An emerging target of phishing campaigns is Raven, which allows access to an increasing amount of services and information. Particularly valuable is the access to articles and libraries that Raven affords.

As the User Policy Manager explains, IP addresses from China and India have been identified as using stolen Raven passwords to participate in the “cottage industry” of the resale of Jstor articles, which are downloaded on mass. As more information about students and staff, including staff salary details are added to Raven, the more valuable Raven passwords become.

Online crimes committed by both strangers and members of the University network are tackled by the Computer Service’s anonymous fast response CERT team.

In the past three months crime in Cambridge City West has fallen by twenty per cent. However, recent reports released by John Hummersone, treasurer to Cambridgeshire Police Authority, indicate that the Cambridgeshire Constabulary is £207,000 pounds over budget.

Though this obviously doesn’t automatically mean a rise in crime, what it does suggest, as Chris Lewis makes clear, is that “education is most important”. Crime affects many people who do nothing to provoke it, yet at the same time “we need to challenge this culture of complacency”, particularly in regard to leaving expensive things unattended.

The same goes for protecting our intellectual property and identify online. The Computer Service’s User Policy Manager emphasised the importance of creating complex passwords, using antivirus software – which can be picked up for free from the Computer Service – and being aware about potential phishing schemes – Sarah Palin’s Yahoo password was cracked simply by looking up her mother’s maiden name on Wikipedia.

Louise Wallace – Investigations Editor

Article First Published 30 October 2009