Norfolk police urges women to ‘challenge officers if they feel unsafe’
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Women stopped by plain clothes officers should challenge their legitimacy if feeling unsafe, Norfolk Police has said.
It comes as police forces seek to reassure women in the wake of the kidnap, rape and murder Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens.
The Metropolitan Police firearms officer used his warrant card and handcuffs to snatch the 33-year-old marketing executive into his car using Covid lockdown rules to make a false arrest.
Natasha Harpley, Labour councillor for Sprowston Central in Norwich, said concern remained over what women do if a lone male police officer tries to arrest them.
“Lots of women are feeling very uncomfortable right now and with policing operating on consent, an essential part of that trust has been damaged, not least with recent revelations about just how many police officers have kept their jobs despite being convicted of sexual misconduct," she said.
Norfolk chief constable Paul Sanford has admitted the force needs to work harder to “rebuild trust and make streets as safe for women and girls”.
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Officers who always carry identification and can always be asked for verification should expect and be tolerant of those who wish to be further reassured, he said
In public advice, the force added: “If people still feel things are not quite right or you are in imminent danger you must seek assistance, if that means shouting out to another member of the public, flagging a car down or even dialing 999 then do that."
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The Met Police has said plain clothes officers will no longer be deployed alone in London but will be "in pairs", but this policy will not be followed in Norfolk.
A Norfolk Constabulary spokeswoman said: “We are listening to the public reaction and we know questions have been raised about verifying officers’ identification, legitimacy and the issue of plain clothed officers working alone.
"As a result, we will be considering our working practices but we need to ensure we continue to police and do so effectively so these matters need careful consideration.”
Andy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation, said there were occasions where off-duty officers not in uniform "put themselves on duty" when they come across an incident.
But officers needed to think about how they come across when stopping lone women when in plain clothes, he added.
“It is a natural feeling for women to be feeling really exposed if they are stopped by police, I completely understand that.”
Mistrust caused by Couzens' misuse of police powers was a “horrible place to be for police officers”, he said.
“What we have to deal with is the aftermath, which is an eroded confidence. We need to redouble our efforts and make sure we can try and obtain that trust back which has been massively shaken because of this man’s actions.”
A Norfolk police officer is among those whose conduct linked to the Sarah Everard case is being investigated by police watchdog the IOPC over allegations they sent discriminatory messages in WhatsApp.
Latest misconduct and disciplinary figures show between January and March, Norfolk police received 130 complaints from the public.
Over a four year period to the end of 2018, 37 police officers and 33 members of police staff were subject to misconduct and disciplinary proceedings, a freedom of information request revealed.
They included two officers who pursued inappropriate relationships with members of the public. One was dismissed while the second would have been had they not already resigned.
A staff member was given a final written warning for inappropriately touching a colleague causing distress.
While two other officers received management advice for inappropriately touching a colleague and improper conduct towards female members of the public whilst on duty.
Mr Symonds said more still needed to be done to encourage officers to challenge colleagues and report unacceptable behaviour.
“There are confidential reporting lines into our professional standards department that encourage officers when they see and hear things that are wrong,” he said. “But we need to do more work on that going forward.”