One hundred years ago, the first women police officers went on patrol in London. At that time, there were just 21 of them. Moreover, these women were far from treated as equals. They did not have the power to arrest criminals and they were paid less than male colleagues.
Today, there are just under 8,000 women police officers working in the Metropolitan Police Service and there is some female representation at all ranks with commissioner Cressida Dick, along with deputy mayor for policing and crime, Sophie Linden, showing that women are now leading our community safety. Throughout the ranks, whether it is as schools’ officers, pursuit drivers, riot officers, detectives or PCSOs, women are keeping us safe. We should welcome this progress. But we shouldn’t let it stop us from saying that even more needs to be done.
Having a police service that is diverse and representative of the city it serves is vital for community cohesion and makes a real difference to the ability of the police to prevent and solve crime. Building trust and confidence between the police and community is the bedrock of neighbourhood policing. It is only by developing strong relationships with local people that victims and witnesses of crime will come forward to report it, help to bring offenders to justice and enable the police to safeguard vulnerable people.
One of the key challenges the police face in overcoming violent crime is the “wall of silence” – a term which describes victims of crime not having the confidence to report incidents to the police. Likewise, in cases of domestic abuse, rape, other sexual offences and other forms of violence against women and girls, we know that victims do not always have confidence that they will be listened to and taken seriously.
Having more women police officers will help us to overcome these barriers, Studies that show that increasing female representation in police forces can increase the reporting of these crimes. We may also be able to uncover other forms of criminality which too often remain hidden, such as the harassment, abuse and exploitation of young girls by gang members. This is currently under-reported, in part because girls do not feel able to talk to the police about their experiences.
This year has also marked 50 years since the first black woman police officer, Sislin Fay Allen, joined the Met. There are now just over one thousand BAME women in the service. However, they accounts for just three percent of the overall workforce, compared to around 20 per cent of the population in London. It was concerning to hear the Met announce this week, that based on the current level of progress, it will take 100 years for their ranks to reflect the diversity of London’s population.
We cannot allow the current levels of under-representation to continue, but there are some signs of change. Sadiq Khan has rightly said that his aim is to have a police service that is as diverse as London’s population. The Met have designed specific recruitment campaigns aimed at tackling barriers to entry and 48 per cent of the young people involved in the cadet scheme are girls. This means that almost 2,500 young women are learning new skills and volunteering with the police. It is important that we support the cadets scheme to ensure that these young people feel able to become Met officers in the future.
We have come a long way since February 1919, the first time women patrolled London. We need to use this anniversary to celebrate the progress we have made and to re-double our efforts in making the Met more diverse.
Florence Eshalomi is London Assembly Member for Lambeth & Southwark and sits on the Assembly’s police and crime committee.