Homophobia & Hate Crime

Public Sex Environment Policy

Wiltshire Constabulary





AuthorPS Roger Bull
DepartmentCommunity Safety
Date of PublicationAugust 2004
Review DateFebruary 2005
Technical AuthorDeborah Peach




Sexual behaviour in public can cause offence to those who unwillingly witness it and may result in people feeling intimidated when using public spaces or facilities. Places where such behaviour occurs are henceforth described as Public Sex Environments, or ‘PSEs’.

This Policy facilitates the investigation of complaints in relation to PSEs, whilst protecting all members of the community from harassment and ensuring that Police actions are lawful, fair, proportionate, accountable, necessary and based upon the principle of using only the best available information.

This Policy does not cover matters of commercial sexual activity.

The Policy is based upon the “ACPO Guidance on the Policing of Public Sexual Activity”.

Glossary of Terms

PSEPublic Sex Environment
ACPOAssociation of Chief Police Officers
CRRCommunity and Race Relations
DCRRODivisional Community and Race Relations Officer
Hate CrimeA crime motivated by racism, homophobia or transphobia
Sector HeadThe Police Officer who has day-to-day operational policing responsibility for the location concerned.

Strategic Aims

The strategic aim of this policy is to improve the quality of service provided by Wiltshire Constabulary to Wiltshire & Swindon residents and visitors when dealing with the issue of public sex environments by:

  • Establishing a framework for Wiltshire Constabulary officers to work in partnership with other agencies to find effective solutions to complaints surrounding PSEs.
  • Developing a professional, graduated approach to dealing PSEs when complaints are received.
  • Utilising a problem- solving approach to address complaints about PSEs.
  • Establishing a clear, transparent public document detailing to all people how complaints surrounding PSEs will be dealt with by Wiltshire Constabulary.

Other strategic aims linked to this document are:

Strategic Aim Linked to this Policy
Reducing and detecting crime
To develop safer communities through partnerships
To ensure continuing organisational development

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Compliance

The table below lists the ECHR Compliance Guide paragraphs that specifically relate to this Policy.

Reference: The Compliance Guide can be found in TROVE in Policy and Procedures / Corporate Development / ECHR Compliance Guide.

ECHR Compliance Guide paragraphs relating to this document
1. Statement of Compatibility
2. Public Access
5. The Impact of The European Convention on Human Rights
6. Article 2 - Right to Life
9. Article 5 - Right to Liberty and Security
10. Article 6 - Right to a Fair Trial
12. Article 8 - Right to Respect for Private and Family Life
14. Article 10 - Freedom of Expression
17. Article 14 - Prohibition of Discrimination
19. Positive Obligation
20. Duty of Staff

Statement of Compatibility

The Policies and Procedures contained within this document are (unless otherwise stated) compliant with the ECHR and are non-discriminatory under Community Race Relations.

Public access

This policy is suitable for public access.


Men and women who use PSEs may be committing offences; however, their activities may also be completely lawful. For example, PSEs may be used as meeting places by people who then go elsewhere together.

Traditional methods of policing PSEs have proven unsatisfactory and ineffective at offering long-term solutions. Furthermore, they have served only to reinforce the prejudices of all parties involved.

It must also be emphasised that men and women who use PSEs may also be victims and witnesses of crimes, such as assault, harassment, blackmail and robbery. In certain circumstances these offences would be considered to be Hate Crimes.

However, some victims and witnesses may be unwilling to come forward and report crimes as they perceive the police as being part of the harassment problem. Indeed there is a concern that they, themselves, will be treated as criminals rather than as victims or witnesses, merely because of their sexual activity, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation or lifestyle.

Accordingly, the policing of PSEs in Wiltshire must be carried out in a sensitive but positive manner to ensure that the policing needs of all sections of the community are catered for. Communication with all parties concerned is an essential element of the Policy.

The Policy has the full support and endorsement of our partner agencies, such as County, Borough and District Councils, together with relevant public health professionals.

Partnership Working

It is essential that we work in partnership with other agencies to develop long-term solutions. These include councils, who are often the owners of the land or facilities used as PSEs, relevant health professionals and any other relevant partner agency.

Problem-Solving Approach

Traditional policing methods of dealing with complaints surrounding PSEs have proven unsatisfactory, ineffective and particularly non cost-effective.

Accordingly, we will now utilise the established ‘SARA’ (Scan-Analyse-Respond-Assess) problem-solving technique when dealing with complaints about PSEs.



Generally, it is only when a formal complaint has been received from a member of the public or a partner agency, will pro-active action be contemplated.

The complaint must be fully documented with statements obtained from the complainant and any witnesses.

Anonymous complaints will be logged for intelligence purposes only.

It is recognised that there may be occasions where a police officer witnesses sexual activity in a public place, or receives a complaint while on patrol from a member of the public that such activity is taking place or has just taken place.

The police officer should assess the circumstances and determine if immediate action is required. However, such a decision should be guided by this policy and based upon the principle that any action should be lawful, fair, proportionate, accountable, and necessary and based upon the principle of using only the best available information.


It is crucial that complainants are kept up to date with any proposed course of action. Not only should we explain what is proposed but, where practicable, the rationale behind any decisions taken.

It is also vital that all staff that may be affected, for example local officers, Divisional Community & Race Relations Officers, or Community Safety Officers are kept appraised and involved with the process.


It must always be considered that when dealing with issues surrounding PSEs media coverage may be generated. The media is not to be used proactively as it may attract others to the site and exacerbate the problem; or criminals to prey upon those who use the PSE.

Care must be taken to ensure that media coverage has a positive effect and does not damage relationships with any section of the community because of sensationalist reporting of the behaviour of an unrepresentative few.


Stage 1 – SCANNING

Responsibility and accountability for handling a complaint from a member of the public or partner agency regarding a PSE will rest with the relevant Sector Head.

The Sector Head will carry out an initial assessment of the validity of the complaint and undertake initial liaison with the Divisional Community & Race Relations Officer (DCRRO).

The Sector Head will make contact with the complainant to acknowledge their complaint and give an explanation of the policy. A full statement will be taken from the complainant.

If the complaint is anonymous it will be logged for intelligence purposes only.

Stage 2 - Analysis

A full analysis of the problem will now be undertaken by the Sector Head in consultation with:

  • Community Beat Officer
  • Divisional Community & Race Relations Officer
  • Divisional Community Safety Officer
  • Relevant health professional, for example Gay Men’s Health

Following this review consideration should be given to involving other parties, for example:

  • Land/facility owner
  • Council Community Safety Officer (particularly if council-owned/run land/facility)

Consideration should be given to various factors including:

  • the nature of the complaint; e.g. is it observed sexual activity or another matter, for example, unhygienic litter?
  • location of the PSE;
  • proximity to centres of population;
  • usage by other members of the public;
  • numbers alleged to be involved
  • other information/reports/intelligence received or available

In undertaking this Stage the ‘Problem Analysis Triangle’ looking at the three constituent parts to any crime and disorder problem should be considered:

  • Complainant
  • Offender(s)
  • Location

The relevant features of all three should be fully analysed to determine the appropriate response. Analysis of the location of the PSE must include an assessment of the potential for public conflict. For example, although the PSE may be in a wooded area away from any population centre, the proximity of a public footpath may give rise to concerns about such conflict.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to the time of day when potential issues arise in order that an appropriate effective response can be considered.

Time spent on scanning and analysis will help ensure:

  • Police and partners frame the issue in proper terms and context
  • Actions taken are well considered, proportionate, lawful, appropriate and necessary and not seen as ‘knee-jerk’.
  • Police and partners are able to evidence decisions reached and actions taken; or not taken if considered appropriate.

The Sector Head must ensure that the complainant is kept informed of what is being done and the reasons why.

Stage 3 - Response

Not all formal complaints will result in the formal response and phased actions detailed below. The scanning & analysis phases may show the incident complained of to be an isolated problem and not a symptom of a larger issue.

Therefore, the Sector Head should explain this to the complainant and no further action will be taken.

Should analysis and consultation reveal that a formal response is required; the stepped approach below should be followed.

However, before action is taken we must consider:

  • What is it we are trying to achieve?
  • How will we know when we have achieved it?

In this connection a decisions log should now be maintained.

The complainant must be made aware of actions taken throughout this Stage of the process and the results of those actions.

Phase 1 – Inform & dissuade

Consideration to be given to using:

  • Posters/information and warning notices – informing users and the public of the problem and advising that overt police action may ensue.
  • Community Contacts – for example within the GBT community if applicable
  • Health Outreach Workers – may be able to get closer to the users of the PSE and address the problem without committing police resources

Phase 2 – Situational Crime & Disorder Prevention Measures

The aim here is to consider using established crime and disorder reduction principles to manage the issue. It will be necessary to engage with the land/facility owner to achieve results in this area.

The involvement of the Divisional Crime Prevention Officer is crucial and a crime and disorder reduction survey should be undertaken.

Thereafter the following options should be considered:

  • Target removal - e.g. closure of facilities
  • Access control - e.g. restricting opening hours
  • Landscaping - e.g. cutting back shrubbery
  • Lighting - e.g. installing or upgrading
  • Environmental - e.g. redesign of the facility. This is Design likely to be a longer term solution.

Phase 3 - Preventative Patrolling

If Steps 1 & 2 are ineffective high visibility patrols, both on foot and mobile should take place to deter potential offenders.

The officers involved must be in uniform, wearing reflective jackets and using marked police vehicles.

A risk assessment should be conducted before deploying officers.

A briefing for all officers involved will take place and it will be conducted by an officer of at least the rank of sergeant.

The officers involved are to be briefed to avoid conduct which could be construed as oppressive, harassing or contrary to the principles of this Policy. Wiltshire Constabulary’s commitment to anti-discriminatory behaviour must be emphasised and explained.

The officers involved should be made fully aware of this Policy, its aims and objectives as well as the aims and objectives of the operation they are about to undertake.

Officers should be given clear instructions that the purpose of the operation/patrol is the prevention of all criminal activity

Phase 4 - Other Methods

If the methods adopted in Steps 1-3 have proven ineffective and there is clear evidence that the problems are continuing, then further action may be necessary. However, if those steps are followed effectively it is highly unlikely that recourse to further measures would be required.

Furthermore, although the use of plain clothes officers may now be considered, there is little evidence that their use in a detection and enforcement role is an effective method of solving problems of this type. Indeed, such tactics risk accusations of agent provocateur.

Therefore, in extreme cases covert surveillance equipment may have to be considered for use. This will be subject to the relevant authority level prescribed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Stage 4 – Assessment

The process must be subjected to rigorous monitoring and evaluation throughout.

The Police, partner agencies and the public need to be aware that any actions taken were proportionate, lawful, appropriate and necessary.

A review must be undertaken to ensure that the problem has been solved and what lessons can be learned for the future.

Operations of this type will have a cost implication for all parties concerned and it should be quantified.

Feedback from the complainant, who should have been involved in all stages, should be obtained.

If practicable, consideration should be given to obtaining feedback from those directly affected, i.e. users of the PSE. Here the services of an intermediary, for example a relevant health professional or outreach worker, should be used.


It must always be considered that when dealing with issues surrounding PSEs media coverage may be generated. The media is not to be used proactively as it may attract others to the site and exacerbate the problem; or criminals to prey upon those who use the PSE.

Care must be taken to ensure that media coverage has a positive effect and does not damage relationships with any section of the community because of sensationalist reporting of the behaviour of an unrepresentative few.