Relationship between police and women ‘acutely under strain’, chief warns

·4-min read

Far too many women are asking themselves if they can trust the police, according to one of Britain’s top officers.

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the relationship forces have with the public is “under strain”, adding it was “most acutely under strain in our relationship with black people and women”.

He told a crime summit in Westminster it is a “defining moment for policing, people will look back at how we responded, but, more importantly, people are looking at us right now”.

His comments came as a survey suggested fewer women trust the police since off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens murdered Sarah Everard.

Watch: Fewer women trust police after Sarah Everard murder, survey suggests

Although confidence in policing remained “largely steady” during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Hewitt told delegates: “I think we would all agree that we’re now operating against the backdrop of an altogether different public mood.

“The legitimacy and effectiveness of UK policing is built on our relationship with the public. It’s the most important relationship we have and it is under strain, and it’s most acutely under strain in our relationship with black people and women.”

Describing the “long-standing and well-documented challenges” in the relationship between police and black people as remaining “deeply concerning”, he said there was also a “deeply felt and long-standing concern with women, that the criminal justice system does not protect them, or bring them justice when they experience violent and sexual crimes that have a devastating impact on their lives”.

Explaining how the killings of Ms Everard, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and Sabina Nessa brought concern and desire for change “into sharp focus”, he added: “Far too many women are asking themselves if the police are on their side in tackling violence against them. And if they can trust us to help them.”

Couzens will spend the rest of his life behind bars after he abducted, raped and murdered 33-year-old Ms Everard near Clapham Common in south London in March.

The atrocity triggered a widespread public outcry, prompted a Government crackdown on sexual harassment as part of its strategy to tackle violence against women and girls and saw Home Secretary Priti Patel promise a “thorough review” of police vetting.

Wayne Couzens
Wayne Couzens was jailed for the murder of Sarah Everard (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Mr Hewitt said: “The weekend following the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s murderer – as I took in what that meant for policing – from a personal point was one of the lowest points in all the years of my service.”

He added that the service “can’t claim to police by consent if any community or any section of society doesn’t trust us and doesn’t believe in what we’re doing.

“So, I believe that this is a defining moment for policing, people will look back at how we responded, but, more importantly, people are looking at us right now.”

A poll of 1,699 adults by YouGov, on behalf of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition, found 47% of women and 40% of men polled said trust in the police has decreased since the details of Couzens’ crimes were made public in court.

Nearly one in three women (29%) said they continue to trust the police despite Couzens’ actions.

Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, who was appointed last month to lead the NPCC’s work on violence against women and girls, and to co-ordinate police action across England and Wales, told the conference “we know we cannot arrest our way out of violence against women and girls alone” and a “whole system response” was needed.

Mr Hewitt added that police “need to take every possible step to root out those who do not uphold our standards”, highlighting how the NPCC has asked force chiefs to remove those guilty of misconduct from the service.

Watch: After high-profile killings, London women learn to defend themselves

Forces should seek a judicial review when a decision has been made to “retain someone in the service who we believe undermines our culture and the standards that the public rightly expect of us”, he said.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse, who during his speech described the “awful killing” of Ms Everard as a “real punch in the solar plexus for policing”, said cutting the number of murders needs to be “one of the critical priorities” over the next year.

He said murder rates had “flatlined” after a “period of reduction” which means “we need to redouble our efforts”, adding: “It is preventable. They are not all ad-hoc, lots of them are predictable. Lots of murderers are identifiable, and I’m afraid lots of victims are also identifiable.”

Mr Malthouse also talked about embedding the “right set of values” into new officers joining the service as part of the Government’s recruitment drive, saying that they will bring a “big shot of new energy” and should be able to feel “proud”.

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