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Thieves target NCU - Students beg for more protection from the police

Published:Friday | February 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey

The violence in August Town, St Andrew, has left students at the University of the West Indies Mona campus and the University of Technology in fear, even though they know they are not the targets of the criminals.

In Mandeville, Manchester, students of the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) are also in fear, and for them it is worse as they are the targets.

Laptops, cell phones, and other items worth thousands of dollars have been stolen from the NCU students, leaving many traumatised, having been robbed with the business end of a gun, or a sharp knife pointed at them.

President of the NCU United Students' Movement, Cynthia Garbutt, who is among the robbery victims, told The Sunday Gleaner that while the leadership of the university has been doing all it can, greater police involvement is needed.

"The university has taken measures, such as the implementation of a shuttle system in the evenings that goes into the communities, as a majority of our students live off campus. But we still have students who will walk or take a taxi to areas that are not necessarily main roads because the shuttle does not run in the morning or right throughout the day," said Garbutt.

She noted that the university also occasionally advised students on safety tips within, but argued that this is not enough.

"We are not asking for a police outpost or for them to just sit and watch, but we think that if we had their presence a little bit more visibly, because the truth is students are not seeing them, then it might serve as a form of deterrent to these criminal elements," added Garbutt.

She said within the past two weeks, there have been three reported incidents of robbery involving the university students.

According to Garbutt, she recently engaged the Member of Parliament for Central Manchester Peter Bunting along with the superintendent of police in discussions on the need for increased patrols around the university.

"I was told that the resources of the police are limited and are deployed in more volatile areas in the parish ... it wasn't said that way, but what I got from it was that greater crimes are been committed elsewhere and that is given priority.

"I understand that it is hard to control crime, but if there is any way that students could not face this trauma then that is what I would want. There are approximately 30 countries represented at NCU, and what I want to authorities to feel is an ownership of the parish.

"NCU is one of the major economic drivers in Mandeville; whatever affects the students will affect the school, and what affects the school will affect the community and the wider parish," added Garbutt, who is from Belize.

She said the students were satisfied with the action of the cops in the past but are worried that they are becoming complacent.

"In 2016, we had a very high number of robberies, assault, attacks, break-ins around the communities and the police stepped in and did a bit of remediation, and so in 2017 it was a little bit less.

"However, it did not go away completely because I was victim of an early-morning robbery on my way to school. There are students who are not even reporting it, so we don't have the actual numbers," said Garbutt.

She added: "When I was robbed, the loss and prevention managers at NCU recovered the bag and most of the items but the criminals took my keys, and that was alarming and scary for me, so I had to have my locks changed.

"The school will always be looking at what it can do, but it is an educational institution, it is not set up to fight crime and men with guns. If the police are not able to do more it will spell badly for the town."

When The Sunday Gleaner contacted head of the Manchester police, Superintendent Wayne Cameron, he said of the three cases of robbery spoken of by Garbutt, they have records of only two and the alleged robbers have been arrested.

According to Cameron, the call for increased police presence around the university might not always be possible but his team will be extending their periods of patrol.

"What we try to do, also, is ensure that the culprit is found when a crime is committed in the area. Police presence alone will not prevent crime and we are all aware of that ... I have also met with their chief of security and we share a good relationship, and the partnership is something we will continue," said Cameron.