28 February 2024

Plain-clothed police officers to target pubs and clubs in a bid to make nights out safer

Wiltshire Police are launching a new scheme in an effort to ensure people who go out at night in Wiltshire are kept safe.

Project Vigilant is aimed at targeting perpetrator behaviours, which are often displayed before a sexual offence takes place.

During the year ending August 2020, there were 1,389 sexual assaults and rape offences reported to Wiltshire Police, not linked to domestic abuse. Of these, 50% occurred between the hours of 10pm and 6am.

In addition to the high visibility patrols already carried out by Community Policing Teams, Wiltshire Police say both uniformed officers and plain-clothed officers will target pubs and clubs in towns and cities across the county in September and October.

Officers will be identifying individuals who may be displaying predatory behaviours in line with guidance received from the National Crime Agency, such as harassment, loitering without reason and stalking behaviour.

The operations will be carried out on a frequent basis with the aim of proactively preventing violence and sexual offences against women and girls, whilst also ensuring anyone of any gender can enjoy their night out in Wiltshire.

The scheme is being supported by Pub Watch, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC), Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council as we all strive to make a safer environment for anyone enjoying their night out.

Det Chief Insp Gemma Vinton, Wiltshire Police lead for Project Vigilant, said: “It is a sad fact but, a lot of people, particularly women and girls, are not feeling safe when out at night.

“We’re pleased to be launching this initiative in Wiltshire to address this and make Wiltshire a safer place to go out at night.

“We’re looking at identifying anybody who is showing signs of potential perpetrator behaviour and intervening before they might go on to commit a serious sexual offence.

“Sexual offences have a devastating impact on the victims, so anything we are able to do that prevents people having to go through such a traumatic experience is absolutely the right thing to do.

“I recognise that people have the right to go out and enjoy their night without feeling like the police are watching them, but it is crucial we are there to identify people who may be about to commit sexual offences.

“We want to engage with people to make them aware that their behaviour is unacceptable or could be quite alarming and distressing to other members of the public.

“It’s really important for us that people do feel safe and are able to go out and enjoy a night out without fear of what might happen at the end of the night and the fear of other people out.”

Gemma Vinton, Op Vigilant

PCC Philip Wilkinson said: “Everyone should be able to enjoy a night out across Wiltshire without coming to any harm. It is deeply troubling this isn’t the case.

“I want to see proactive policing of these crimes and increased prosecution outcomes with justice for victims – only then can we say we are truly disrupting crime.

“Increased presence and visibility of officers will always help to deter predators – with Wiltshire’s fair share of the extra officers promised by Government and the Force’s own recruitment targets, we will continue to proactively target those criminals out to cause harm.”

Cllr Simon Jacobs, Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection, said:

“We want women to feel as safe as possible while having a night out. With the various lockdowns over the last year or so, many people will be looking to go out and enjoy the nightlife Wiltshire has to offer, and they shouldn’t have to do that in fear of their safety. This scheme should provide more people, particularly women, peace of mind.

“We’ll continue to work with partners to identify any other potential projects that help keep our county’s communities as safe as possible”.

Where to find help

Anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault, whether recently or in the past, is encouraged to contact Wiltshire Police.

You can report it online here or by calling 101. Always call 999 in an emergency or if a sexual assault has just occurred.

If you feel uncomfortable on a night out in Wiltshire, you can also ‘Ask for Angela’ at participating venues where staff will be trained to offer you support. You can find more info and participating venues here.

You can also use the Government’s online tool ‘StreetSafe’ to flag areas on a map where you don’t feel safe, from poorly lit walkways to instances of public harassment, regardless of whether a crime has taken place here.

The Swindon and Wiltshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is commissioned by the OPCC to work closely with Wiltshire Police to deal with individuals after a sexual assault.

Individuals can be referred to the SARC by the police or refer themselves.

When someone calls the SARC, a trauma-informed crisis worker is ready to respond and listen in a non-judgemental way, they will then offer to book the caller a time to visit the SARC, between 8am and 8pm, any day of the week.

It’s essential that regardless of what sort of assault has been carried out, survivors are encouraged to access help early, and are assured that the staff at the SARC will provide specialist support.

They can be contacted 24/7 on 01793 781917.

Written by
Beth Doherty
View all articles
Written by Beth Doherty