Onus will be on officers to instigate new identity check as force seeks to rebuild trust, says Cressida Dick
Plain clothes officers will now video call into a control room for verification when stopping women, the head of the Metropolitan Police has revealed.
Dame Cressida Dick said: “What I can say today is we are launching our ‘safe connection’, as we call it, which allows a woman who is stopped by such a police officer immediately to have verification that this is a police officer.
“My plain clothes officers will call into a control room, they will then have a video call with a sergeant in uniform who will say ‘Yes, that’s so and so, he’s PC X, Y, Z’ – so a quick, easy way, which again is instigated by the officer, not by the woman having to ask for this… which I hope will be one way people can feel reassured.”
The new verification check comes after off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens used his warrant card and handcuffs to kidnap Sarah Everard as she walked home in south London earlier this year before going on to rape and murder her.
Ms Dick said the Met had also reviewed its widely-criticised safety advice, released immediately after Couzens’ sentencing, for women to flag down a bus or passer-by if stopped by a police officer they do not trust as she gave evidence to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Wednesday.
She told the committee: “I want to be clear: the onus is on the officer to deal professionally with the person they are speaking to and in the very unusual circumstance a plain clothes police officer is talking to a lone female – which is likely to be extremely unusual in London – we would expect them to go to every effort, first of all to recognise the woman may feel uncomfortable, to explain themselves well, to identify themselves well…to call up a colleague.
“Some safety advice – I have to say when, in a press conference, pressed, pressed, pressed – was given out if all else fails and you’re really concerned you may want to get assistance.
“I completely understand why that ended up as the headline. It was not intended and it is not how we see things and yes, we have reviewed it.
“The problem here is men’s violence towards women, the problem is not for the women, or the woman, it’s really not.”
Couzens, who worked in the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, snatched 33-year-old marketing executive Ms Everard off the street in a fake Covid arrest as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham on the evening of 3 March this year.
The firearms officer, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning, drove a hire car to a secluded rural area near Dover in Kent, where he parked up and raped Ms Everard before later strangling her.
The married father-of-two, from Deal, Kent, will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being handed a rare whole life sentence at the Old Bailey in London last month.
Sophie Linden, deputy mayor for policing and crime in London, suggested Ms Everard’s death may have prompted a spike in the number of girls and young women coming forward to report sexual offences over the last year.
She told the committee: “What we’ve seen is many more younger girls and young women coming forward over the last year, possibly it’s a hypothesis after the case of Sarah Everard and the Everyone’s Invited campaign.
“We’ve seen a real increase in young teenage women coming forward and reporting, which is to be welcomed but of course concerning.”