Case Study: Policing Sexualities
Angela Dwyer and Matt Ball
Some of the models of policing outlined in this chapter, while certainly useful, have
been criticised for ‘over-policing’ (White & Perrone 2005) diverse social groups,
leading to their over-representation in criminal justice processes (Williams & Murphy
1990; Kennison 2002). Researchers argue that police may target these groups as
‘deviant’ and in need of regulation. One example is the relationship between queer
communities and police, a relationship characterised as both supportive (McGhee
2003; Baird 1997), and antagonistic (Burke 1992; Radford, Betts & Ostermeyer 2006;
Thompson 1997). A range of political, social and legal factors have informed this,
particularly the historical criminalisation of homosexuality (Richardson, Smith &
Alexander 1997; Smith 1988). These factors have shaped how queer communities are
policed: when homosexuality is criminalised, police constitute the initial point of
suspicion, intervention and apprehension of ‘offenders’ (Williams & Robinson 2004).
Two examples of policing sexualities in Australia will be used here to demonstrate the
effect that two different models of policing can have on communities in practice: the
Tasty Night Club raid in Melbourne in 1994, and the Walksafe Anti-Violence project
instituted in Brisbane in 2004.
The Tasty Night Club was a gay nightclub in Melbourne raided by police on August 7
1994, ostensibly because of drug use on the premises. The warrant for the raid was
issued based on ‘vague and speculative’ evidence (Groves 1995, p. 124), and sought
by a homophobic officer who preferred the strategy of raiding the club over further
investigating drug use claims. Police conduct during the raid involved the mass strip
search of approximately 200 (primarily male) patrons, a strategy that evidences ‘a
serious abuse of police power’ (Justice Michael Kirby cited in Groves 1995, p. 123).
Issues included: inappropriate and possibly derogatory language used by officers;
inadequate ratio of police to patrons increasing search times (with patrons detained
longer than necessary); lack of communication about the raid and that patrons could
be strip searched (causing fear of possible cavity searches); inconsistent patron
searches requiring removal of all clothing for one person, and only some items for
another; lack of respect for privacy during searches; failure of officers to change
gloves between patron searches; lack of female officers (causing female patrons
concern about being searched by a male officer); and lack of visible police
identification making reports of inappropriate conduct difficult (Groves 1995).
Coupled with the removal (and subsequent ‘disappearance’ for the evening) of
patrons that questioned police authority, all these practices distressed and intimidated
patrons (Groves 1995).
The Tasty Night club situation exemplifies the reform model of policing in action
(Kelling & Moore 1988). With crime control as its critical focus, the heavy-handed
approach to addressing ‘crime problems’ is apparent: police powers are utilised en
masse at the Tasty Night Club without deeper investigation into suspected criminal
activity. Utilising this approach to policing in this context emerges as inappropriate
given historical tensions that characterise relationships between police and queer
communities. Thus, although the raid was actioned regarding suspected drug use,
historical issues and homophobic police attitudes provided the conditions for police
power to be applied in a disadvantageous manner.
In contrast to this reform model of policing, community policing focuses on building
relationships between community members and police, as police accept that
communities have ‘a legitimate, active role to play in the policing process’ (White &
Perrone 2005, p. 29). A key factor in this approach is informing police officers about
issues related with diverse groups such as queer communities, a factor demonstrated
in The Walksafe Anti-Violence project (now Walksafe Queensland Anti-Violence
Inc.). Walksafe was formed on the basis of ‘rumblings’ within the Brisbane queer
community indicating that verbal harassment and physical violence were common
experiences, but were not reported to police. To substantiate these ‘rumblings’,
Walksafe conducted research that verified these issues (Scott 2004) and developed an
incident report form to enable anonymous reporting of incidents of (especially
homophobic) harassment or violence by victims or witnesses. This form allowed
people to nominate whether or not they wanted the matter pursued formally, and for
the first time enabled the Queensland Police to record statistics about the incidence of
verbal harassment and physical violence in queer communities.
These initiatives exemplify community policing at work (Kelling & Moore 1988).
Police work with rather than against queer communities by informing policing
practices with research evidence, and combining this with anonymous reporting
strategies and queer-sensitive police and community training (Walksafe Queensland
Anti-violence Inc. 2007). Further collaboration is evidenced by the visible presence of
this initiative within annual queer celebrations (such as Pride Day), and queer venues
(through advertising posters and coasters) (Scott 2007). These strategies prevent as
well as control crime involving queer communities and defuse historical tensions
between community members and police. More importantly, they enable police to see
queer communities as deserving of their assistance, instead of as inherently deviant.
Looking at the Tasty Night Club raid and the Walksafe Anti-Violence initiative as
examples of two different policing models enables identification of their positive and
negative effects on communities that have previously had a problematic relationship
with the police. Such critique needs to perpetually inform policing practices if they
are going to be considered just.
Baird, B 1997, ‘Putting the police on notice: A South Australian case study’, in G
Mason & S Tomsen (eds.), Homophobic violence, Hawkins Press, Sydney, pp. 118-
Burke, M 1992, ‘Cop culture and homosexuality’, The Police Journal, 65, pp. 30-39.
Groves, M 1995, ‘Not so tasty’, Alternative Law Journal, 20 (3), pp. 123-127.
Keeling, G. & Moore, M. 1988. ‘The Evolving Strategy of Policing’, Perspectives
on Policing 4, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, National
Institute of Justice and U.S. Department of Justice.
Kennison, P C 2002, ‘Policing diversity – managing complaints against the police’,
The Police Journal, 75, pp. 117-135.
McGhee, D 2003, ‘Joined-up government: ‘community safety’ and lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender ‘active’ citizens’, Critical Social Policy, 23 (3), pp. 345-374.
Radford, K, Betts, J & Ostermeyer, M 2006, Policing, accountability and the lesbian,
gay and bisexual community in Northern Ireland, Institute for Conflict Research,
Belfast, viewed 2 July 2007, <http://www.community-
Richardson, C, Smith, D & Alexander, D 1997, ‘The police and the gay community’,
Gay times: Special issue on gay policing in the 90’s, November, pp. 26-34.
Scott, D 2007, Personal communication, Brisbane, Queensland.
Scott, D 2004, Everyone has the right to be able to walk safe in their community,
Valley Walksafe Project, viewed 20 July 2007, <
Smith, G W 1988, ‘Policing the gay community: an inquiry into textually-mediate
social relations’, International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 16, pp. 163-183.
Thompson, S 1997, ‘Hate crimes against gays and lesbians: the New South Wales
Police response’, in G Mason & S Tomsen (eds.), Homophobic violence, Hawkins
Press, Sydney, pp. 132- 146.
Walksafe Queensland Anti-violence Inc. 2007, viewed 19 July 2007,
White, R & Perrone, S 2005, Crime and social control, 2nd edn, Oxford University
Williams, H & Murphy, P 1990, ‘The evolving strategy of police: a minority view’,
Perspectives on Policing 13, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
University, National Institute of Justice and U.S. Department of Justice.
Williams, M L & Robinson, A L 2004, ‘Problems and prospects with policing the
lesbian, gay and bisexual community in Wales’, Policing & Society, 14 (3), pp. 213-
1. Re-read the section in this case study on the conduct of the police officers
involved in the Tasty Night Club raid. How does this highlight the need for
clearly defined standards for police conduct and their powers?
2. What other diverse social groups do you think the community model of
policing might assist, and how might this occur?
3. Can you think of any potential drawbacks of a community model of policing?
What communities are perhaps more likely to benefit? To help you answer
this, you may need to read Williams and Murphy’s 1990 article.
4. What evidence of community and reform models of policing can you see in
policing practices in your community?