“St Andrews in particular, as well as the rest of Fife, seems remarkably low on crime”, said St Andrews Councillor Jane Ann Liston, a Scottish Liberal Democrat, in a statement to The Saint. “And long may that continue.”
But ‘crime is common’ and ‘logic is rare’, as legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes says – a pithy statement that holds true, even in sleepy seaside towns.
“Like any other place, there is crime – there’s nowhere in the UK that there isn’t”, says Police Constable (PC) Larna Fox, a longtime constable who becomes the University Community Officer this week. “We get anything from bike thefts to drug dealing to, you name it, everything in between.”
The Saint spoke to Fox, mined public crime data, and gathered information and statements from the St Andrews Police Department, Fife Councilors, and students to gauge the state of criminal affairs and find out how students can best stay safe and out of trouble.
Its findings glean insights into topics ranging from bike safety, sexual assault, drug use, and noise complaints (which always seem to occur at the same addresses, regardless of who lives at them, police say). It also learned that the dog often spotted outside Tesco is – despite entreating eyes that may suggest otherwise – well looked after.
Fox, who has served as a Community Officer with the St Andrews Police Department for the past four years – working with community partnerships and local residents to tackle long-term crime concerns – will start as the University Community Officer this week. In her new role, she will collaborate with Student Services and Student Conduct to address student and University concerns and serve as a liaison with the police department. “I will be there to build bridges, to have a dedicated officer that can give advice.”
The Kingdom of Fife has experienced a slight uptick in reported crimes over the past five years, which includes increases in non-sexual violent crime, sexual crimes, and theft and cyber fraud, according to Management of Information data from Police Scotland.
But reported crime in the St Andrews area – the gamut of which is related to non violent incidents, and largely issued by residents concerned for the wellbeing of community members – appears to have lessened, or stayed the same, over the past few years, Liston says.
A large portion of police calls in St Andrews come from deprived areas like North East Fife. “You've got very deprived areas of St. Andrews, which people don't think exists,” she says. “Because you have the St. Andrews bubble, you know, people don't realise that there are people living in poverty.”
Among the most reported crimes in St Andrews is bike theft, which Fox says students can best safeguard against by taking photos of frame numbers and choosing ‘D-locks.’ On the rise are scams – conducted increasingly online and over phone lines – and especially ‘sextortion,’ a form of cyber extortion that involves threats to distribute sexual information, images, or videos.
Public perception in St Andrews reflects a sense of comfort, with residents largely saying that they find life on the three streets ‘safe’ or ‘very safe’, even at night, according to the results of a straw poll distributed across social media platforms that garnered 41 responses.
Abandoned calls and those related to concern for persons reports averaged at about 50 per monthly reporting period in the St Andrews area, followed by reports of anti-social behavior, noise nuisances, and neighbour disputes, and those related to traffic reports and incidents.
“What [that data] does show is that, what vastly outweighs the reported crime, is calls [that often relate to] mental health”, Fox says.
Only four surveyed residents said that they had been victim to a crime in the area, with the three that offered to elaborate describing a stolen bike, a vandalised house, and a instance of unreported sexual assault, respectively.
"If you wouldn't do it at home, don't do it here” is Fox’s overarching message to students hoping to avoid unwelcome run-ins with criminals and law enforcement alike.
She recommends that students read-up on the dos and don’ts in Scotland and utilize public resources like askthe.police.uk, which provides information on UK law and offers a question-and-answer service.
Among the fastest growing crimes in Fife, and the United Kingdom more broadly, is cybercrime, which describes scams, hacking, and other criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the internet.“Whilst not St Andrews specific, this is where crime is perhaps changing with more of this being reported”, said Councilor Al. Clark, a Scottish Liberal Democrat, in a statement to The Saint.
Fox doubled down on the importance of avoiding instances of ‘sextortion,’ which are becoming more common nation-wide.“If in doubt, don't get your bits out”, she says.
She adds that there is no judgment raised against those who fall victim to sextortion, or any other scam. “We would really, really advise people to report it to us”, she says. “I can't push this heavily enough.”
Sexual assault and spiking incidents seems to have become less frequent in St Andrews this year, Fox notes, even while residents continue to highlight it as a leading problem within the community, and after a year when spiking hit record highs in Scotland and sparked safety concerns in the St Andrews community.
Across Fife more broadly, sexual crimes have decreased by roughly 11 per cent from the same period last year, even while increasing by roughly 25 per cent from five years ago, according to the Management of Information data.
The police department is always available to support sexual assault victims, Fox says, but cautions that unsure of whether they wish to pursue legal action should explore recourses available through the Fife Rape & Sexual Assault Centre or student services first. “Because I'm a police officer, if you start divulging [a crime] to me, I have a duty to investigate”, she says.
Surveyed residents also report badgering from young kids as a problem, describing encounters with unruly students from nearby Madras College. But Fox notes that the majority of Madras students are commuters from the larger Fife area, and that any youths heckling residents after nighttime likely attend another college in the area.
Recent attention has been drawn to an assault on South Street, where a group of 15 teenagers left an elderly man and a student shaken. While Fox was unable to comment on the specifics of that situation, she says that it represents an outlier that was largely over-exaggerated by gossip and media reports.
A frequently recurring issue among University students is noise complaints, Fox says. “When you've got a live DJ in a pokey little flat, blasting out drum and bass at like two in the morning, you can hear it from streets and streets away”, she says.
The Fife Council has an ‘environmental noise team’ that logs repeat offenders and investigates them, occasionally reaching out to private landlords if there is a persistent problem.
“There are some addresses in the town that over the past few years are very much known to us”, she says. “ It just seems to be something about that address – no matter who moves in.”
Fox also spoke about drinking responsibly, recommending that students should always have plans when going out and home friends that have over consumed. “It’s like Toy Story”, she says. “Nobody gets left behind.”
To avoid running into trouble with drugs, she says that students should be aware of UK law, which schedules drugs like cannabis as a Class B drug. She suggests that students read up on the Misuse of Drugs Act to familiarize themselves with acceptable conduct in the country, especially as cannabis is legalised in the United States and elsewhere.
“All I would say to anybody, if that's your thing, that's your thing”, she says. “But you've got to be aware, no matter what country you come from, that drugs in the UK are illegal.”
More general precautions like locking doors are often overlooked and could significantly reduce property related crimes, with Fox warning that doors should not be propped open at any time.
To students unclear on the legal status of the ‘beggars’ lining Market Street, Fox says that there is no obligation to give them money, and that she knows them all by name. While begging is illegal in England and Wales, it is not an offence in Scotland – so long as it excludes aggression and intimidation.
Surveyed residents had various suggestions to fix the relatively low crime rate in town, with some proposing increased street lightings or private efforts like doorbell cameras, and others asking that the University take matters like sexual assault more seriously.
Liston suggests that crime could be reduced in St Andrews and Fife by making “the disengaged feel part of their community,” adding that while it is necessary to discuss suitable treatments and punishments for offenders, “if the criminals are unlikely to be caught, then one might as well not bother.” The remaining Fife Councilors contacted for this article did not provide a comment.
As Fox starts her new role, she looks forward to mellowing the criminal climate on the three streets by assisting University members on all law-related matters: “I’m just really looking to get started”, she says. “Anything you need, we’re here for.”
Community Officer Larna Fox will be working at the Student Union, in halls, and via email through the Sabbatical Officers. She will also be hosting a 'Coffee with a Cop event at the Rector's Café on Wednesday 22 February from 10 am to 12 pm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.