A NEW police operation has been launched in a bid to stop sex offenders and make the streets safer at night.
As part of the Project Vigilant, both uniformed and plain clothed officers will visit pubs and clubs in towns and cities across the county in September and October.
The crackdown comes after 1,389 sexual assaults and rape offences – not linked to domestic abuse – were reported to Wiltshire Police during the year to August 2020.
Of these, 50 per cent happened between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
Det Chief Insp Gemma Vinton, the 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.”
The scheme is being supported by Pub Watch, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council as they strive to make a safer environment for anyone enjoying their night out.
It follows a pilot by Thames Valley Police in Oxford.
DCI Vinton added: “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.”
The operations will be carried out on a frequent basis with the aim of proactively preventing violence and sexual offences against women and girls, while ensuring anyone of any gender can enjoy their night out in Wiltshire.
Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and public safety Cathy Martyn 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.”
Coun 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.”
Owner of The Bank on Wood Street Manni Madhani welcomed the initiative.
He told the Adver: “It appears it’s getting out of hand what people are doing. We’ve been extra vigilant ourselves.
“I think that initiative will help to support us on top of what we are doing, because no venues appreciates or likes this when it happens. It’s not just the venue’s fault, because it’s very difficult with multiple people coming in.”
Wiltshire Police are currently investigating a drink spiking incident in Old Town, with no venue yet identified.
“I’ve heard within the industry that it’s becoming more of a problem.
“The safety of people and females is very important because they’re vulnerable. I just encourage females to stay together, make sure when they get into vehicles, they know what they’re getting into.
“If they feel they’re not very well, and they feel they’ve been spiked they need to come to us.”
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.