A week of action has been taking place around Exeter City Centre's nightspots as part of Devon and Cornwall Police’s commitment to tackle violence against women and girls. Over three nights, officers carried out seven arrests and stopped numerous vehicles.
The activity is part of a national scheme, called Operation Vigilant, which is a strategy used in a bid to reduce sexual violence and predatory behaviour.
Exeter Sector Inspector Simon Arliss said: “The purpose of the action is also to reassure and safeguard the public, particularly the night-time economy community and provide reassurance that my officers are on patrol and are approachable if needed.
“High visibility patrols have been increased around areas where we have received reports or concerns about women being approached in suspicious circumstances or have been left feeling unsafe.
“We want to make Exeter a place where people can live their lives free from fear of violence and intimidation. This may seem like an idealistic aspiration; however, it is one that we continue to strive for.”
Police have been working with several partner agencies and have been out with Exeter City Council Licensing Officers assisting with talking to taxi drivers and entering clubs and bars, carrying out checks on licensing compliance.
Inspector Simon Arliss continued: “We also work extremely closely with our Exeter City Council CCTV operators who have numerous of cameras dotted around the city. Predatory behaviour has been picked up by these operators and this drives policing action.
“We continue to maintain and develop our working relationship with the Council to assist each other in providing a safe environment for the community.
“The timing of this operation has coincided with Exeter University’s Freshers' Week, where new students embarking on their first year of university begin to arrive, taking part in events in and around the city and exploring the nightlife.”
Officers were not only inside licenced premises but were also outside of them in the city’s nightspots such as Gandy Street and Queen’s Street on the lookout to identify individuals involved in predatory behaviour - such as drink spiking, sexual assault and targeting vulnerable individuals.
Inspector Simon Arliss added: “We receive many reports, largely from women, regarding possible drink spiking incidents. My officers take these reports extremely seriously and officers are deployed to victims to obtain statements and samples. Although most of the samples we carry out come back negative, we still want people to continue coming forward if they believe they have been spiked.
"Women should be able to go out at night without the feeling unsafe. We hope that our presence assists in making women safer and serves as a warning to potential predators that intimidation will not be tolerated.”
Cllr Laura Wright, Exeter City Council’s Deputy Leader, sits on the Exeter Community Safety Partnership and is a member of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner’s Panel.
She said: “Exeter is one of the most desirable places in the UK to live in and to visit, and as residents we are proud of our city for many reasons. However, recent partnership work within the scope of the Community Safety Partnership has highlighted that many women and girls don’t always feel safe in the city at night and would welcome improvements in policing, lighting, CCTV coverage and a clear message of intolerance for abusive and intimidating behaviour which unfortunately, sometimes leads to actual sexual assault and violence.
“We want Exeter to be somewhere where women and girls and indeed everyone, can feel comfortable and safe to enjoy the city. That’s why we are 100% behind this work and through such positive partnerships have been able to make many improvements in infrastructure ourselves such as massively increased CCTV provision and staffing, and we welcome initiatives such as Project Vigilant wholeheartedly.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez said: “Young women in particular are sick and tired of enjoying a night out only to find they may be groped, drink spiked or harassed. The police are showing that they’ll use techniques such as this to catch men out who act inappropriately and show that it won’t be tolerated. It’s time for change in society but particularly in the evening and night-time economy.”
Anyone on a night out who is concerned for another member of the public being alone and vulnerable, perhaps being subjected to unwanted attention or aggression, should always approach a police officer or a member of venue staff to let them know.