Saturday, 30 July 2011

Policing Public Sex

I've recently been working on a book chapter for a Routledge book to be published next year entitled Policing Sex, and edited by Paul Johnson and Derek Dalton. The book can be pre-ordered here. My chapter focuses on the policing of public sex, specifically 'dogging', but as with my ongoing book, Public Sex and the Law: Silent Desire, the issues of how the police police public sex is discussed. ACPO documentation and individual force policy documents (where they exist) offer us a comprehensive 'by the book' explanation of tactics, whilst the media offers is insight into one or two strategies of a wider strategy.

Nonetheless, there still appears to be different approaches by different police forces and Northumbria Police in North East England appear to remain one of the most hardline forces. Last week, they released a press release which served to prompt cruising alerts and news report warnings. The original press release an be viewed here. The BBC faithfully reported the story in a bid to 'scare off' cruisers from visiting one North East cruising venue.

The police begin the story with some humour to catch the attention of journalists -an interesting strategy in itself - stating: 'Don't get caught with your pants down urge police.'

They then clearly outline their rationale - complaints from the local community before extolling their protection of the public. Never known to miss an opportunity to evoke 'families and children' in the policing process, they comment:

"We want all people, including children and families, to be able to enjoy the woods so our officers will be conducting regular patrols and taking action against anyone committing public sex acts in the area around Hedley Hall Woods."

Fair enough, if cruisers are engaged in acts during school holiday at mid-day, and I can understand policing at that time. However, does policing a venue at midnight or two in the morning protect 'children and families'? Could the Police have therefore advised of a directed campaign? Of course they could. Did they? Of course they didn't.

The press release moved on to issue a pretty serious threat and one that's been reported on a number of cruising and dogging sites for some time, but for which I was lacking independent evidence for. The Police state that:

"Our patrols will be taking the registration of any vehicles suspiciously parked in the area and the owners of these vehicles may be subject to a home visit by one of our officers."

So, home visits. The Police drawing up outside some suburban home to tell a husband that they recorded his vehicle in a car park the other evening. Was it him? What was he doing there. His wife, sits in another room, their tea going cold. Her mind races as she wonders why the Police have arrived, what do they want? What has he done? Is he some paedophile, some sexual eviant? Is this the moment that their life starts to fall apart?

It all sounds like some naff plotline from a film of life in 50s Britain. The trouble is it is a potential reality for many as the Police engage in this unfocused tactics, spending hours driving up and down country lanes and sat in isolated car parks. At a time of police cuts,
(1,143 posts at Northumbria), how much of a priority is this?

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Anonymous said...

Interesting and maybe i could get someone i know in that scene to talk with you (and no: that's not one of those cleverly veiled references to my own predilections. I don't dog!).

Two thoughts. First, interesting that it was Northumberland. I had a run-in with their press office a year or so back when they made some seriously wrong-headed threats about people possessing miaow-miaow which, at the time, was a legal substance.

Very similar tack to the one you mention: bluster and threat, with little legal substance to back up.

Second, i know from some serving police officers, that dogging is regarded as a positive: basically, it keeps the flashers and low-level deviants in one place and simplifies the task of policing greatly.


Chris Ashford said...

Thanks Jane, that's really interesting. 'Positive' in quite a negative way then...making it easier to 'hoover' folks up. I think this 'ease' aspect of policing is actually quite important in the area of public sex.

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