Making the 2014 Commonwealth Games Safe
Glasgow is looking forward to the Commonwealth Games coming to the city in 2014. But alongside the talk of sport and celebration, a largely unspoken aspect of the Games, supported by a research project by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, is concerned with ensuring that the event is safe for competitors and spectators alike.
In a three-year project funded by the European Commission, Glasgow Professor of Criminology Michele Burman is leading a multidisciplinary team of experts who will monitor, evaluate and inform the security planning process leading up to 2014.
The project is the culmination of several years of collaboration with Strathclyde Police, says Professor Burman. ‘We couldn’t do this research if we weren’t allowed access to certain security arrangements. We are looking at the ways in which the police are identifying, assessing and addressing security risks, and also at the inter-relationships between various partners that are involved in the security planning for a mega sporting event like the Commonwealth Games.’
Much contemporary security practice is based around risk assessment, which involves both identifying key risks and grading their scale and probability. But this isn’t as simple as it sounds, as Dr Simon Mackenzie explains: ‘Some risks are very low in terms of likelihood but very high in terms of impact, in other words they would be very harmful were they to occur. Some risk-based security analysis is therefore about taking measures to prevent something which probably won’t happen but, if it did, would be catastrophically bad. On the other end of the scale, you have things which have a much higher probability of happening but wouldn’t be so great in terms of their harmful impact. Then you have questions as to how you allocate your limited security resources to the spectrum of perceived risk.’
To make things more complicated, much of the risk assessment is carried out in multi-agency teams, so the project will examine the interaction between these groups. ‘We will be studying the way the police and other security providers work together with problem-solving partners like the fire or ambulance services, or the city council,’ explains Professor Burman. ‘Security planning involves a number of groups who have different levels of ownership over an area of risk, and we are interested in how they work together to deal with that risk in order to prevent crime and security breaches. Who takes the lead? Who has the ultimate responsibility?’
The research team also includes Glasgow Professor of Computing Science Chris Johnson, who specialises in studying systems failures, and there is close collaboration with the Scottish Institute for Police Research. The team is currently establishing international connections to gather vital background information on different approaches to security planning in other countries which have hosted sporting mega-events.
The centre has built up an impressive portfolio of research work ranging from the punishment of female offenders and youth gangs in Glasgow, to mapping organised crime.
Professor Burman was in South Africa earlier this year speaking to academics, as well as the police, military and private security providers who were involved in the provision of security for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. ‘Against considerable odds, South Africa is a success story. It involved a militarised security service, and a security context with significant violent crime and broader security concerns, yet the overall verdict is that security was managed well, and people who went to South Africa for the World Cup remained safe to enjoy the spectacle. There were various things that the authorities did that ensured a pleasant experience for spectators, while at the same time managing to showcase a capacity to secure a context which is generally comparatively insecure and high-crime.
‘My colleagues will be travelling to more countries this year and next to see what we can learn about the ways they have tackled issues such as border security, counter-terrorism, counterfeit ticket scams and ambush marketing during mega sporting events. A key aim of the project is to produce a legacy for security planning that will assist in the planning for future mega sporting events in Europe.’
Professor Burman is co-director of the Scottish Centre for Crime & Justice Research – an academic consortium of four Scottish universities, led by Glasgow, that has built up an impressive portfolio of research work ranging from the punishment of female offenders and youth gangs in Glasgow, to mapping organised crime. While much of the centre’s work has a Scottish focus, crime, criminal justice and security issues transcend borders, and researchers in the centre are finding their expertise is increasingly relevant in international contexts. ‘There are many criminological issues which are culturally distinct for Scotland, particularly because of the distinctiveness of Scots law and our separate criminal justice system, which creates jurisdictional issues, but which at the same time renders us intellectually interesting to an international audience,’ says Professor Burman. ‘We also have a programme of research and knowledge exchange which engages with transnational and international issues, and that acts as a counterpoint to the more localised impact activities that we do.’