Scotland Yard has pledged to make sure officers do not work alone when not in uniform in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder by a plainclothes officer.
Sir Stephen House, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told the London Assembly that her murder has “raised questions” over issues including vetting and recruitment.
He acknowledged that the fact Wayne Couzens was operating in plain clothes was “part of the issue” which led to Ms Everard’s death.
“What we will be doing in the future is we will not operate plain clothes officers on their own. If we do use them they will be in pairs,” he said.
However, he said that there will be occasions where this “will not be possible” due to officers getting separated when working together while tracking criminals, or for those who put themselves on duty while traveling to and from work.
The fear that women will face when approached by a police officer out of uniform now means that the onus is on officers to prove their identity, the Deputy Commissioner confirmed.
“It is entirely natural that people will use this situation as an indicator of worry,” he said.
Wayne Couzens used his police warrant card and handcuffs to suggest that he was conducting official police business, before kidnapping Sarah Everard.
You treated Sarah as if she was nothing
Confirm with a phone call
Now the Metropolitan Police says that officers must “facilitate a greater trust” by allowing phone calls to its control room to check if the officer is who they say they are.
In addition to the questions raised around his lack of uniform, serious criticism has been levelled at the vetting process that allowed Couzens to become and remain a police officer.
Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, confirmed that Couzens was known as “the rapist” by officers during his career, in addition to a reputation for “drug abuse and extreme pornography”.
His bank accounts were often overdrawn and he had a total debt of almost £29,000. How much of this was known by other officers is being investigated by the IOPC watchdog.
‘Culture of protection’
Sir Tom told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One that the Met’s vetting process was not sufficient, and that a “culture of protection” meant that officers would not report people like Couzens, despite knowing what they have done.
"Forces are not sufficiently spotting and dealing with concerns about behaviours and attitudes when constables are in their probation when they should be thrown out,” he said.
"In too many respects, there is evidence of police officers who become aware of damaging or worrying characteristics in police officers of not reporting them, not putting up a warning flag, and that needs to change."
Sir Stephen House told the London Assembly that the force has asked the Police Inspectorate to look specifically at vetting as part of its inspection, including a financial picture, as well as the frequency of vetting officers.
He claimed that, despite the vetting oversight that allowed one of their own officers to kidnap, rape and murder a member of the public, the Met does “more vetting” and “goes further in vetting” than other police forces.
He also admitted that he did not know whether the Met carries out financial checks on officers who are transferred from other forces, as Couzens was from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) in September 2018.
“He was in debt, that does make somebody corruptible,” he said.
Impact Statement for Sarah Everard by her mother, Susan Everard
Indecent exposure under-reported
Comparing vetting to a MOT test, Sir Stephen said: “you’re ok on the day it was carried out but the following day, something can change.”
Nick Ephgrave, the Assistant Commissioner at the Met, said the force is putting predatory offender units in every borough command in London to seek out sex offenders, and has already arrested 2,000 suspects.
He admitted that indecent exposure, the crime Couzens committed before murdering Sarah Everard, was under-reported and urged victims to come forward so the force can investigate the scale of the problem.
Giving advice to women who are approached by a plainclothes officer, he said that his three daughters who live and work in London asked him the same question, and told them that if they were approached, they should ask for more information.
This included asking where their colleagues are, why they are on their own, and to speak to another officer.
If they still felt threatened, he encouraged women to seek assistance from a member of the public or call 999.
Wider cultural change
The wider culture of the Metropolitan Police’s attitude to women is also earmarked for change, following the force’s attempts to tackle its attitude towards black people following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Following recommendations from the Macpherson Report, which found the force to be institutionally racist, the Met struggled to get near their target for recruitment, as while black individuals make up around 13.3 per cent of London’s population only around 3.5 per cent of Met Police officers are black.
Currently, the number of female police officers in the Met is around 27 per cent, compared to just over half the population of London.
Beyond recruitment, the current culture of the way the Metropolitan Police views women has been questioned by Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, who said she had been "vilified" when she raised concerns about the way she was treated.
"The police service is very sexist and misogynistic. A lot of women will not report their colleagues,” she said.
"What happens is that male police officers will then close ranks and the fear that most women police officers have got is that when you are calling for help, you press that emergency button or your radio, they’re not going to turn up and you’re going to get kicked in the street.”
Despite the testimony of female former officers such as Ms Sandhu, Sir Stephen claimed that according to staff surveys women officers and staff felt “more of a stake” in the Metropolitan Police than their male counterparts.