The emerging tensions between police forces on how to police prostitution

A difference of opinion on policing prostitution: Association of Chief Police Officers members Chris Armitt, Martin Hewitt and Mark Gilmore.

A difference of opinion on how to police prostitution: Association of Chief Police Officers members Chris Armitt, Martin Hewitt and Mark Gilmore.

In a previous post (The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire) I discussed how West Yorkshire Police is not following the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation in at least two important aspects, namely treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and employing Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to support sex workers. What does the Association of Chief Police Officers think about their guidance not being followed by West Yorkshire Police?

The Association of Chief Police Officers were keen to emphasise that their 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation  is ‘only’ guidance and it is up to forces to decide whether they follow it or not. On one level this makes sense – forces need to maintain independence in setting their own operational policies. But it does not explain why West Yorkshire Police has not implemented guidance which is based on very compelling evidence of success in areas such as Merseyside using methods which are wholly applicable to operational policing in West Yorkshire. In some respects, West Yorkshire Police seem to take the guidance more seriously than the ACPO do – West Yorkshire Police told me they see the 2011 guidance as “best practice” and go as far as stating they are “compliant with it” in their own Adult Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation policy.

The decision by West Yorkshire Police and other forces not to fully adopt the 2011 guidance is indicative of a fundamental difference of opinion, perhaps even tensions, among senior police officers from different forces about how to police prostitution. Here we have a group of the country’s most senior officers (only Assistant Chief Constable or above can join the ACPO) coming together to produce a piece of guidance which looks at what policing methods have been successful and makes recommendations for other forces to follow – but most forces choose not to adopt it, including West Yorkshire Police whose Chief Constable Mark Gilmore is a member of the ACPO. These tensions are now spilling out in to the mainstream media. In a Guardian article from January 2014 about the murder of prostitute Mariana Popa, two of Britain’s most senior police chiefs (both ACPO members) – Chris Armitt, assistant chief constable of Merseyside police and the national police lead on prostitution in England and Wales, and Martin Hewitt, deputy assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard and the lead for adult sexual offences at the Association of Chief Police Officers – denounced the police approach to prostitution as a mess and said that operations to tackle the trade are “counterproductive” and likely to put the lives of women at risk. Martin Hewitt said, “We have very contradictory actions. On the one hand we sit down with sex workers asking them to trust us and give us information. On the other hand we are doing enforcement actions.” Hopefully bringing these tensions out in to the public arena will increase the pressure on the police and politicians to re-think their approach to the policing of prostitution and to finally take on board the recommendations in the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance.

The Association of Chief Police Officers wanted to clarify that their 2011 guidance recommends that crimes against sex workers be treated as hate crimes, but that they would not actually be hate crimes. This means that victims would receive a “premium response and service” but the police force would not be compelled to record and report crimes against sex workers as hate crimes in the same way they are obligated to report hate crimes against other groups. There is already a potential problem with West Yorkshire Police’s interpretation of what is and is not a hate crime as discussed in an earlier post (Is it only physical violence against women that we don’t tolerate?). West Yorkshire Police are not using the actual definition of hate crime as set out by the Home Office, i.e. “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”. Instead they are interpreting hate crime within the confines of the specific hate crimes that criminal justice agencies have to monitor, namely those motivated by prejudice towards disability, race, religion sexual orientation or transgender. Therefore they exclude gender and occupation-based hate crimes. I asked West Yorkshire Police to consider this point back in May last year and hope to have a response soon


  1. The ACPO confirmed that all of the West Yorkshire Police chief officer team  are members of the ACPO. The chief officer team currently consists of: Chief Constable Mark Gilmore, Deputy Chief Constable Dee Collins, Assistant Chief Constable Geoff Dodd, Assistant Chief Constable Craig Guildford, Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom, Assistant Chief Constable John Robins, and Assistant Chief Officer Nigel Brook.
  2. The ACPO no longer has responsibility for policy guidance to forces – this now lies with the College of Policing.
  3. I’m grateful to the ACPO press office for answering my questions. It’s appreciated when organisations engage with bloggers in this way – some don’t.


  1. Pingback: South Leeds Roundup: Views, Viaducts and Vehicles | South Leeds LifeSouth Leeds Life

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