Project Vigilant officially launches in Watford following successful pilot
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Police in Watford have piloted a national safety initiative that proactively targets perpetrators of sexual predatory behaviour in the town’s night-time economy.
Pictured left to right: Sergeant Karl Diggins (operational lead for Project Vigilant), Community Safety Unit Inspector Nicola Dean, Superintendent Diane Whiteside, Watford Chief Inspector Andy Wiseman, and Senior Licensing Officer Jo Tomkins.
First launched in Oxford by Thames Valley Police in 2019, the aim of Project Vigilant is to identify and intercept those who may be displaying concerning behaviour, to protect the public and prevent sexual offences from occurring.
To achieve this, specially trained plain-clothed and uniformed police officers patrol public areas outside nightclubs, bars and pubs. The plain-clothed officers integrate themselves among the public and highlight anyone of concern before their uniformed counterparts take positive action – which may include arrest. Examples of the predatory behaviour officers are looking out for include sexual comments, inappropriate touching, and loitering.
Since Hertfordshire began its pilot in May this year, 18 people of interest have been stopped across six deployments – all of whom were subject to a thorough risk assessment and intelligence checks.
The team’s most recent deployment was on Saturday 25 November – also known as White Ribbon Day, an international call for the elimination of violence against women and girls. This marked the beginning of 16 days of action against domestic abuse. The Project Vigilant launch also complements the constabulary’s annual Operation Advisory campaign in the lead up to the festive period, which educates on topics including consent, drink spiking and personal safety.
Watford Chief Inspector Andy Wiseman said: “Watford has always enjoyed a thriving night-time economy, but partners and I know that with this can often bring challenges in the form of crime and anti-social behaviour. Our town was chosen for the Hertfordshire pilot of Project Vigilant due to high nighttime footfall, and we’re now running regular deployments with specially trained officers after initial mentorship from our colleagues in Thames Valley Police.
“During our very first deployment in May this year, plain-clothed officers noticed a male paying particular attention to a heavily intoxicated female on The Parade. After being stopped by uniformed officers, the male claimed the female was his girlfriend but after further questioning and roadside checks, it became apparent that this was not the case. The male was arrested and taken into custody, and the female was safeguarded.
“By its very nature, it can be hard to measure the success of an initiative like Project Vigilant, but I strongly believe that we prevented a woman being attacked that night. The impact of rape and sexual assault is all too often far-reaching and life-long, which is why this type of work is so critical. Everyone has a right to feel and be safe when they’re enjoying a night out.”
Peter Taylor, Elected Mayor of Watford, said: "We are proud of Watford's award-winning vibrant nightlife, but we also acknowledge the challenges posed by potential crime and disruptive behaviour because of its popularity. This led to Watford being selected for the Hertfordshire trial of Project Vigilant, and our work with Herts police on the project has already proven to be successful.
"Our goal with Project Vigilant is to keep our community safe by actively watching out for and stopping people who might cause harm, especially in the night-time economy. We're working hard to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour from happening and make sure everyone feels safe and respected."
David Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire, said: “Tackling violence against women and girls remains a top priority for my office, the constabulary and partners. Project Vigilant is a proven tactic which can keep people safe and is a vital part of Prevention First, which aims to prevent crimes from happening. Recently my office secured substantial Safer Streets funding from the Home Office to enable this project to also be rolled out in Hertford to cover their vibrant night-time economy.”
What does the officer training involve?
In March this year a three-day Behavioural Detection Night-time Economy course was delivered to eight officers at Watford Police Station, who were taught a scientific-based process used to detect anomalous human behaviour. Those officers are now able to provide training to their colleagues in the constabulary.
All those who undertake the training for Project Vigilant have volunteered to do so. A two-hour interactive session is delivered directly before a deployment, equipping the officers with an insight into how sexual predators think and behave, and the tools to identify if someone’s behaviour is concerning or could be deemed ‘out of place’.
After the training, officers can take on the role of either plain-clothed or uniformed in all future operations which allows for long-term resourcing flexibility.
What does a Project Vigilant deployment look like?
Once the training is complete, the Behavioural Detection Officers (BDOs) – who always work in pairs – will be assigned a patrol area based on current intelligence. They will make their way into Watford town centre before their uniformed colleagues take up their positions.
Observation will begin once all officers are in place, and the operational supervisor – a sergeant – is positioned in the CCTV control room at the police station, to oversee the deployment and assist with fast-time intelligence checks.
If a BDO observes behaviour that requires intervention, uniformed officers will engage with the person identified and carry out a structured stop-check. If offences or concerns are detected, positive action will be taken. Potential victims will also be engaged with by uniformed officers, who will assess their welfare, record any offences and/or signpost to support resources.
Before officers complete their shift, they are required to submit details of all stops to allow for intelligence development. A meeting will subsequently be held which involves several departments from across the constabulary, where a review of every individual stopped is carried out against a risk assessment matrix. Following this, long-term ownership is arranged, and long-term risk management strategies put in place.
No person stopped during a deployment is allowed on their way until officers are satisfied that they have recorded accurate information and they do not pose an immediate risk to the public.
The initiative’s primary aim is to prevent sexual offences being committed against women, but Project Vigilant is there to protect people of all genders.
Only uniformed police officers will approach members of the public, unless there is an immediate threat to life – in which case, plain-clothes officers will intervene if they are first on scene.
Project Vigilant’s uniformed officers are separate resources to their NTE public order colleagues and are therefore ringfenced to deal with stop checks requested by the plain-clothed BDOs.
The deployments are planned according to expected demand and consider key events and dates that are likely to increase the number of visitors to the town centre.
Plain-clothes officers are both male and female, a mixture of ages and from a range of different backgrounds.
The Project Vigilant team works in partnership with venue management, staff and CCTV operators to ensure the safety of those enjoying a night out.
What’s next for Project Vigilant in Hertfordshire?
In recent weeks senior officers have approved the project for countywide roll-out across the constabulary, with plans in the pipeline for the launch of a second pilot in East Herts in the near future.
The long-term goal is to have a pool of Project Vigilant trained officers in all ten Community Safety Partnerships, so that regular deployments become business as usual within the night-time economy across the constabulary.