Plainclothes officer patrols outside clubs put women at risk of police violence, campaigners warn

‘One woman a week reports domestic abuse by a police officer,’ says charity director

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 09 November 2021 18:20 GMT
Dorset Police unveiled plans to have both plainclothes and uniformed officers work outside venues across Dorset over Christmas
Dorset Police unveiled plans to have both plainclothes and uniformed officers work outside venues across Dorset over Christmas (Getty Images)

A scheme that will see plainclothes officers patrol outside clubs and bars to safeguard women will instead put them at risk of police violence, campaigners have warned.

Dorset Police will have both plainclothes and uniformed officers working outside venues across Dorset over Christmas after trialling the initiative at the end of August in Bournemouth town centre and Weymouth.

The Independent previously reported on criticism levied at the government after ministers first announced plans to roll the scheme out nationwide in the spring as part of Operation Vigilant, after the kidnapping, murder and rape of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer in March.

Deniz Ugur, deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said trying to safeguard women from predatory men using plainclothes officers would not tackle the root of the problem.

She told The Independent: “Without carrying out the internal work to confront and address cultures of sexism and racism in policing, officers patrolling nightclubs and bars will not put women’s minds at rest.

“Given that one woman a week reports domestic abuse by a police officer and that police abuse of power for a sexual purpose is now the most common form of police corruption dealt with by the IOPC, there is significant work to be done internally in forces across the UK.

“We’re concerned that at best these plans will be ineffective and at worst, having officers patrol at night will leave women and Black and marginalised people at risk of police violence. The current system is not working and measures like this do not go far enough to create the change we need to see.”

Black and ethnic minority women are already over twice as likely to be arrested as white women, according to the charity Women in Prison.

Ms Ugur said we are currently “living through an epidemic of violence against women and girls” yet survivors are not able to obtain justice or get the support they so desperately need.

“If we are to end violence against women, we need to see radical transformation in the policing of crimes against women and the culture of policing,” she said.

Ms Everard’s death raised questions over how much trust women could place in police officers, as well as compounding pre-existing criticism the government fails to do enough to address violence against women.

Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis, said: “Following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer and the actions of the Met Police after the murder of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, this initiative feels particularly ill-considered.

She said while it is a “well-intentioned” initiative, placing undercover police officers on the streets is “not the solution for making women feel safe” when they are on a night out.

“We’d like to see preventative campaigns aimed at perpetrators across nightclubs and venues; training for staff from specialist sexual violence services; and rigorous, informed safeguarding policies and safety charters in place,” Ms Butler said.

“We need to get to a point where that kind of violence isn't normalised and isn't tolerated: that involves looking at societal attitudes towards rape and sexual assault, not just increasing police numbers.”

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Lyne, who works for Dorset Police, told The Independent they have “already seen a number of successes” due to their “proactive” stance.

The programme, he said, “has helped protect women and girls from predatory offenders in the night time economy.”

“This approach involves working alongside our partners to make the streets both safer and feel safer for women and girls. If anyone has concerns over the authenticity of someone purporting to be a police officer, they can contact the Force Command Centre and staff will be able to verify the details to provide that reassurance.”

It comes after last week, Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police chief announced she is “very confident” locals support plainclothes officers outside bars, as a trial called Project Vigilant launched in two London boroughs - Lambeth and Southwark. A version of the scheme which involves uniformed and plainclothes officers was first trialled by police in Thames Valley.

Campaign group Reclaim These Streets fiercely criticised the Met’s scheme in a statement. A spokesperson said: “How can we trust Met police officers to spot predators in bars and clubs if they can’t seem to spot and root out predators in their own ranks?

“The Met have lost the trust of women, and plainclothes officers will not win it back - instead for many women plainclothes officers outside bars is a sinister prospect.”

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