We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

Is behavioural detection effective in combatting VAWG?

Thames Valley’s Project Vigilant was launched in 2019 and saw covert officers sent out into the night-time economy to prevent VAWG offences from happening.

Unique to Project Vigilant, is TVP’s use of behavioural detection training. In November of last year, the force was awarded extra funding by the Home Office under the Safety of Women at Night Fund for bespoke behavioural detection training. 

To date, almost 100 officers have received the training which involves a three-day course hosted by Profile Aware, a company who have also assisted with Project Servator. 

The training is built around three areas; identifying suspicious behaviour, a conversational-based screening system to determine whether the behaviours noticed were a cause for concern, and then deciding what action to take. 

Behavioural detection first came about in the UK following the discovery of the 2006 liquid bomb plots targeted at aviation. The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastrucutre (CPNI) was tasked with looking at whether the technique could be used at airports to spot people who were planning to detonate explosives hidden on their person or in their hand luggage aboard an aircraft. 

In 2008, Profile Aware was brought in to work on the project, delivering their first courses with aviation in 2009 and 2010. 

Since then, behavioural detection has been used for big public events such as the Olympics, as well as with Border Force in immigration enforcement. 

Director Richard Foreman, said: “With behavioural detection, you don't know what you've got. You're just identifying somebody that's outside of the baseline and who is demonstrating shame behaviours. 

“It moves across to all areas of policing -  it can be protesters, it can be criminality, there’s a wide range.” 

Which behaviours would be picked up obviously marked as “official sensitive,” but Richard Foreman said some of them would be obvious. 

“What the training does is it enables people to become aware of things that they may have already had that sixth sense about, but other things as well,” he said. 

If the behaviours are straightforward, why would a training programme be needed? 

Detective Chief Inspector James Senior, head of Project Vigilant, said: “For me, it was a no brainer. I think the landscape has changed a lot. It's not as easy to just throw plain-clothed officers out there anymore and just hope for the best. 

“We used highly trained surveillance officers at the very beginning as part of Vigilant. But as we’re expanding it into Windsor, Milton Keynes and Reading, we couldn’t maintain that capacity within our surveillance teams.

“I could have just said to any officer, right, put on a civilian jacket, go out there and see what you can get. But it felt really uncomfortable for me. And we wouldn't have maintained that high standard that we'd already set ourselves. 

“And actually, it's risky nowadays, from a public confidence perspective to operate in plain clothes. Whereas these officers are focused on behaviours, and they're stopping the right people. That's why we've made that investment.” 

Director of Operations at Profile Aware, Lee Davies says that the training has been empirically tested to ensure that the behaviours that are being taught are not based on gender, sexual orientation, race etc. 

“It gives the police organisation and the individuals involved that extra protection, that they're not racially profiling, and not stereotyping, but working on empirically tested behaviours,” he told Police Oracle, 

The latest figures show that Project Vigilant has resulted in 201 stops and six arrests over the period from July 23 2021 to March 23 2022. 

Although the arrest figure looks low, the whole idea of the operation is that it is proactive rather than reactive and prevents the offences from happening in the first place. 

That is a difficult approach to measure success for, but when the project first began from June to December 2019, rape offences were reduced by 50 per cent, and sexual assaults by 30 per cent in Oxford’s City Centre. 

There is a concern as to whether it simply displaces the problem, since the intervention aims to take place prior to the offence, therefore there are no powers of arrest. 

DCI Senior explained: “[For some of the people we stop] we track where they go afterwards [using CCTV for example]. 

“The vast majority of men we stop we will never see again, and some of the parting comments are “I’m never coming back here again.

“We’ve spoken to convicted sex offenders on this tactic and they will openly say if there’s a chance they will be stopped [...] they’re not going to go there.

“Which is why it's really important that other forces look at this tactic as well.” 

TVP also work with the NCA and pass over information of people they have stopped. They consult behavioural psychologists who help to review the people that have been stopped. If concerns are raised, the NCA can enable the force to “quite intrusively manage them moving forward because of the level of risk.” 

That would include passing information to other forces and partner agencies. 

DCI Senior says: “We can never provide statistics to [prove our successes]. I think the fact that we're stopping registered sex offenders, we're stopping people on bail for rape that that have travelled from other forces, and that one in five of the people that we stopped are already linked to VAWG offending. I think it does show that the tactic works.”  

Lee Davies, also explained that there are both pre-meditated and opportunist attacks. 

“[Some offences] start off by a young lad who goes out, has a drink, and then finds himself in a situation where an opportunity arises, where he's with a female who's vulnerable. They're the ones that we need to get in to say, don't go there,” he said. 

Forces are trialling a range of new initiatives to combat VAWG, from the Met’s Walk and Talk which sees members of the public joining neighbourhood officers on patrol, through to Avon and Somerset’s Project Bluestone combining academia with operational policing to achieve more convictions. 

The effectiveness of all these initiatives, including the use of behavioural detection, will be evaluated in the first VAWG performance report which will be published by the NPCC and College of Policing in November. 

Leave a Comment
In Other News
Northamptonshire vows to “respond unequivocally” to police abuse
Culture change in forces is crucial to end VAWG, says national lead
Sussex launches safety reporting app to reduce VAWG
Walk and Talk: building back trust
Forces to speed up VAWG misconduct cases involving officers
More News