Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

The table below summarizes the responses to check and card fraud, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Enforcement-Based Responses
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
1Posting notices Targets potential offenders who may not know the behavior is illegal, and deters those who fear social and criminal-justice consequences…the notices clearly define the targeted behavior, are conspicuous and seen by potential offenders, and are supplemented by surveillance or patrolIt may stigmatize the site and deter legitimate use
2Issuing warnings Provides the opportunity for specific deterrence, without the costs of a formal arrestpatrol activities and information are synchronized so that police can identify repeat offendersThe consequences may not be seen as certain enough to deter the behavior; recipients of warnings may object to the presumed criminal intent; warnings could deter legitimate users
3Creating the illusion of surveillance Destroys the illusion of privacy, deterring those who fear exposurepotential offenders believe the surveillance is realIncreased police activity may give legitimate users the impression that the area isn't safe; the efforts may give the public a false sense of security
4Establishing highly visible patrols Indicates that the police will detect illicit activity, deterring those who fear exposurepatrol schedules are regular, but unpredictableAn increased sense of danger may heighten the excitement for some participants; increased police activity may give legitimate users the impression that the area isn't safe
5Shifting enforcement responsibility to private security firmsIncreases the frequency of patrolbusinesses or other organizations have both a vested interest in controlling the behavior and sufficient resources for private patrolsDelegating responsibility may suggest that the police aren't concerned about the problem
6Imposing "stay away" orders Restricts the activity of known offendersthere's adequate monitoring, and the police have the information to identify offendersIt may displace the activity to other areas; it requires legal authority to enforce
7Using police crackdownsIncreases the likelihood of arrest, deterring those who fear exposureit's used as a short-term method to interrupt entrenched behavioral patterns, and is supplemented with more-sustained responsesCrackdowns are costly; they require significant manpower; they can overwhelm the criminal justice system with lower-level offenders
Environment-Based Responses
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
8Designating geographic boundaries Reduces the likelihood of inadvertent observationthe boundaries are clearly marked, and activity outside of the boundaries is discouragedSome may think it condones public sexual activity
9Improving lighting Increases the ability to monitor activitythe current lighting is inadequate, and participants do not want to be observedInstalling and maintaining the lighting may be costly
10Cutting back bushes and other vegetation Improves the ability to monitor activityvegetation is providing cover for the activity, and participants don't want to be observedIt may have negative ecological and aesthetic effects; the public will more easily notice those who—despite the lack of cover—persist in engaging in the activity
11Redesigning restrooms Improves the ability to monitor activity, reducing the sense of privacy some participants desirethe new design does not deter legitimate usersRenovation costs may be substantial
12Relocating remote facilities Increases informal surveillance by increasing legitimate usethe new location encourages legitimate useRelocation costs may be substantial
13Increasing the area's legitimate-activity levels Increases informal surveillance, and demonstrates that those who want to use the area legitimately are fed up with the illicit activitieslegitimate use is consistent and occurs during times when illegal activities have generally occurredIt may take time to reassure legitimate users that the area has been reclaimed and is safe for their activities, and for children
14Limiting the location's hours of operation Increases the difficulty in finding an area for trystingthe community supports the change, and the area is patrolled during off-hoursThe community may object to having less time for legitimate activities
15Closing the problem facility, street, or area Increases the difficulty in finding a location for trystingthe community supports the change, and any barriers used cannot be breachedIt may be inconvenient for legitimate users
Publicity-Based Responses
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
16Using the media to deter potential offenders from frequenting trysting spots Deters those who fear exposureenforcement activities are seen as fair and unbiased, and the publicity is sustained over timeIt may increase illicit-activity levels by heightening participants' sense of excitement or by confirming a location's reputation as an active cruising area
17Requesting the removal of website and guidebook location references Limits the number of potential participants aware of trysting locationsthe high activity levels at the targeted locations are the result of the publicity they've receivedOrganizations that provide such information may refuse to cooperate
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
18Using undercover decoys Temporarily removes offenders from circulation; the social consequences may shame participants and deter repeated activityThis response is vulnerable to claims of entrapment or discrimination; the social consequences may be devastating and out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense; officers may be reluctant to take on such assignments
19Harassing or intimidating suspects Discourages potential offenders from frequenting targeted locationsIt undermines police integrity; it may create tension with the gay community if same-sex activities are specifically targeted