Met Police action plan a PR exercise that will cause harm

Last week (3rd November 2021) the Met Police announced an action plan on violence against women and girls (VAWG) following numerous police failings to women including the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.

Two police officers

In the action plan, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick acknowledges that there continues to be much work needed to rebuild women’s trust in the police force. This follows the police inspectorate report which found systemic failure to duties to safeguard women and girls from violence, and a subsequent report calling for radical change and prioritisation of the police response to the ‘epidemic of VAWG’.

However, despite recent high profile revelations about the scale of police abusing women and girls, the report failed to include data on police-perpetrated abuse within its datasets on the prevalence of VAWG. EVAW has long called for institutional racism and sexism to be addressed internally before women can ‘rebuild trust’ in the police.

We are concerned that the measures outlined in the report are being rolled out with little evidence base and no consultation with specialist women’s services who are hearing from countless women regularly about their experiences of VAWG and with the police. The measures do nothing to address the causes of VAWG and police-perpetrated abuse, and will instead increase the over-policing and criminalisation of Black and minoritised communities.

In addition, these measures don’t even begin to take on the difficult and long overdue internal work needed to critically and honestly confront the force’s failings – including the institutionalised racism and misogyny underpinning them. Instead of tinkering at the edges which will end up causing more harm, there must urgently be meaningful work to get to the root of these problems, with a view to radical change.

Increased police presence

The Met’s plan includes increasing police presence in public spaces, which will involve new patrolling plans in local areas ‘of highest risk’ and growing new neighbourhood ‘Town Centre Teams’. But without carrying out the internal work to improve the Met’s culture and professional standards, we’re concerned this commitment is misaligned with the national concerns about police-perpetrated abuse and risks causing more harm.

Greater police presence does not increase safety. Black and minoritised communities face disproportionate risk of being stopped and searched, criminalised or harmed when coming into contact with police.

What’s more, more police on patrol will not deter perpetrators who are intent on harming women. We know police presence has little to no impact on this, and work must be done to identify how resource might be better used to prevent violence against women and girls.

StreetSafe service

The plan also includes pressing ahead with StreetSafe – an initiative that crowdsources reports of areas where women feel unsafe. Since it was announced in June, which risks increasing the racial profiling and over-surveillance of Black and minoritised communities.

Walk and Talk sessions

The Met plan has also announced ‘Walk and Talk’ sessions, where female officers will ‘buddy up’ with women from the community to walk the streets of London and listen to their experiences, concerns and reflections.

We are concerned by just how poorly considered and fundamentally limiting this response is by design, as in reality, it would be disproportionately taken up by women who feel more able to trust the police, therefore limiting its reach and amplifying inequalities in whose views are heard and inform policing responses to VAWG. It is also unclear whether the Met has considered the safety implications of survivors visibly patrolling the streets with an officer, nor properly thought out how a measure like this will even begin to address the scale of the problem.

Safe Connection

Safe Connection, the Met’s new lone plain clothed officer verification scheme, was also confirmed in the plan. The scheme will offer women the ability to confirm lone police officers’ identity through a video call with a uniformed officer.

This initiative completely fails to recognise that Black and minoritised and migrant women in particular already face great hostility and sometimes criminalisation or aggression and violence when questioning or challenging police conduct.

Discrimination against migrant women

The action plan fails to address the many barriers facing migrant women who are victims of abuse, including fear of approaching or reporting crimes to the police due to their experiences of institutional racism and discrimination, as well as police data-sharing practices with the Home Office which can lead to women being detained in immigration detention and removed from the UK.

Deniz Uğur, Deputy Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“The Met has once again failed to take meaningful action on VAWG, instead announcing superficial measures for an easy PR win that will have no meaningful impact on women, while harming Black and minoritised communities. We are clear that any such action plan cannot hope to be meaningful unless it starts by confronting and addressing the systemic cultures of misogyny and racism within its own ranks.

We know that one woman a week reports domestic abuse by a police officer and police commit offences as wide-ranging as deceiving women into sexual relationships, taking photographs of women killed, nicknaming their ‘rapist’ colleagues, and committing rape and murder. How can women know which police officers are trustworthy and which are among the many who remain in post following sexual misconduct proceedings? Police abuse of power for a sexual purpose is now the largest form of police corruption dealt with by the IOPC. In this context, we would expect that the Metropolitan Police’s action plan would place front and centre its commitments to address police-perpetrated abuse.

It is absurd to respond to high profile police violence against women with more police and initiatives encouraging the public to challenge officers. This fundamentally fails to recognise the power imbalance between the public and the police, who are able to compel us to do certain things. This power imbalance is felt most by women from Black, minority ethnic and migrant communities​ who commonly experience over-policing and harmful racialised responses from police. Police-perpetrated abuse does not justify the introduction of many of these measures which risk further criminalising and surveilling marginalised groups. 

The Commissioner must seriously consider why her response is charging women with keeping ourselves safe, when the real issue is addressing harmful sexist and racist policing cultures wherever they are found. This needs to be confronted with urgency as the Policing Bill is set to bolster police power and curtail our rights to challenge them. We call for the Bill to be scrapped and given a radical rethink.”

The Met’s action plan on VAWG is the latest in a long line of harmful missteps in its response to police-perpetrated VAWG – from the arrests of women at the Clapham Common vigil to officers defending Couzens’ character in court.

ENDS

Media contact

Sinead Geoghegan

Tel: 07960 744 502

Email: [email protected]

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