Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of illicit public sexual activity. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your particular problem with illicit public sexual activity, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Community Members

  • How concerned is the community about illicit public sexual activity? What particular activities concern them? What are their specific concerns?
  • Which community groups are particularly concerned, and why? Are they willing to tolerate any form or level of public sexual activity?
  • Does the police department have any affiliation with gay and other civil-rights groups that could share in efforts to address the issue?

Victims

  • How many complaints has the police department received from people who have witnessed public sexual activity? What is the nature of the complaints? What are the complainants' characteristics?
  • Have any participants in public sexual activity been victimized? If so, how, and by whom?

Participants

  • What types of public sexual activity occur in your jurisdiction (e.g., nude sunbathing, flashing, opposite-sex, same-sex)?
  • What is known about the participants (e.g., age, gender, criminal history, marital status, residence)?
  • What is known about their motivations for the behavior? To what extent do they fear exposure?
  • What role do alcohol and drugs play in the participants' likelihood to engage in the behavior?

Transactions

  • How do the transactions for the various types of public sexual activity occur?
  • Do the participants use the internet to identify particular locations and attract audiences and/or other participants?
  • How do strangers negotiate public sexual encounters? Does anything about these interactions lend itself to intervention?

Locations/Times

  • Where does public sexual activity occur? What factors attract the participants to the area(s)? Have the locations changed over time? If so, why?
  • If the activity at a particular location were to be displaced to another area, where do you think that would be? Why?
  • What legitimate uses of public places does the activity disrupt? What nuisances (e.g., trash) does it create?
  • Does public sexual activity benefit any businesses? Would publicity about such activity occurring at or near their locations harm any businesses?
  • Does the amount of activity at each location vary by season? By day of week or time of day? What accounts for these variations?

Current Responses

  • How concerned is your department about public sexual activity? Where does such activity rank on the department's priority list?
  • How does the department currently handle the problem? What is the prosecutor's policy regarding offenses? What is the typical sentence imposed? To what extent are arrests and prosecutions publicized?
  • Has the department undertaken undercover decoy operations to deal with the problem? If so, how did the community react to the operations? How successful were they in reducing the problem?
  • Has the department targeted same-sex and opposite-sex activity?
  • Aside from arrest and prosecution, what other responses have been applied to the problem? Have any been effective?
  • Has the public health community been involved with this issue? What do they know that could aid in your response?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to public sexual activity:

  • reduced number of citizen complaints (both formal and informal) about such activity;
  • reduced number of people observed "cruising" (i.e., seeking a partner or audience for sexual activity) at a particular location;
  • evidence that the activity has been displaced to other locations, days of the week, or times of the day (displacement could either improve or worsen the problem, but in any case suggests that the responses are having some effect on the problem);
  • reduced number of participants who report being victimized (e.g., assaulted, robbed);
  • reduced number of arrests of repeat offenders;
  • reduced volume of discarded condoms, lubricants, and other related refuse in the area; and
  • increased number of people legitimately using the location.