Wiltshire Police to launch new scheme in bid to make nights out safer

By Jessica Durston - 10 September 2021

CommunityCrime

The force are starting the Project Vigilant initiative with aims to ensure that people going out at night in Wiltshire are kept safe.

Project Vigilant, first piloted by Thames Valley Police in Oxford, is said to be aimed at targeting perpetrator behaviours, which are often displayed before a sexual offence takes place.

During the year ending August 2020, Wiltshire Police said there were 1,389 sexual assaults and rape offences reported, that were not linked to domestic abuse.

Of these, 50% occurred between the hours of 10pm and 6am.

A spokesperson for the force said: "In addition to the high visibility patrols already carried out by our Community Policing Teams, 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 officers aiming to proactively prevent 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.

It has been launched to coincide with Wiltshire Police's Click or Call campaign which has been attempting to reduce demand in calls for its service, as this operation aims to tackle the issue of sexual offences before they occur, therefore reducing demand and protecting potential victims.

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.”

PCC Philip Wilkinson added: “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.

“We all have a responsibility to report predatory behaviour and educate ourselves, and others, on consent. No means no. It is that simple.

“I welcome this proactive policing operation by Wiltshire Police. Anyone out at night should be confident the Force is targeting those who choose to harass or attack.

“Wiltshire is one of the safest places to live in the UK but too many sexual assaults and rapes are happening far too frequently and, nationally, our prosecution results are a disgrace. 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.”

Councillor Cathy Martyn, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, said: “Following the challenges of the last 18 months, we know that many people are keen to get out and enjoy Swindon’s many hospitality venues during evenings and weekends.

"Alongside our partners, we are here to do everything we can to make sure people enjoy their nights safely, and any opportunity to make our streets safer for people to enjoy is always welcomed. After the challenges which hospitality venues have faced through the pandemic, it is also particularly important that we do all we can to support them too.

“Project Vigilant sits alongside several other measures in place across Swindon to help people enjoy their nights out safely, including our taxi marshals to help people to get home safely.

“This also follows our recent successful bid, alongside the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, for part of the Government’s Safer Streets fund which will be used on initiatives such as improved street lighting and extra CCTV cameras.”

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

Members of the public can report online at www.wiltshire.police.uk/ro/report/ or by calling 101.

Wiltshire Police are also reminding people to always call 999 in an emergency or if a sexual assault has just occurred.

Officers say that if people feel uncomfortable on a night out in Wiltshire, they can also ‘Ask for Angela’ at participating venues where staff will be trained to offer support. More information and participating venues at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/article/1113/Ask-for-Angela.

The Government’s online tool ‘StreetSafe’ can be used to flag areas on a map that feel unsafe, from poorly lit walkways to instances of public harassment, regardless of whether a crime has taken place. More information about 'StreetSafe' can be found at https://www.police.uk/streetsafe.

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-judgmental way, they will then offer to book the caller a time to visit the SARC, between 8am and 8pm, any day of the week.

Wiltshire Police says it is 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.

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