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Walk and Talk: building back trust

Acting Inspector Rebecca Perkins talks to Police Oracle about her idea to improve women’s safety which is to be rolled out across London

The initiative emerged in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s murder and subsequent protests about women’s safety. 

Two weeks after announcing her resignation, Dame Cressida Dick joined a Safer Neighbourhood Team’s ‘Walk and Talk’ patrol and the Commissioner revealed that the idea would be rolled out across the capital from International Women’s Day on March 8. 

The scheme is aimed at sharing information between officers and members of the public, in a bid to gain intelligence as well as rebuild relationships with those whose trust in the police has been damaged by recent events. 

Commissioner Cressida Dick chats to A/Insp Perkins 

A/Inspector Perkins came up with the idea after having been approached by Central South BCU Commander Colin Wingrove about steps which they could take to improve women’s safety in public areas. 

“The idea was pulling information about any areas of specific concern with regards to potentially dense greenery, poor street lighting, maybe either an absence of CCTV or they're not aware of where the CCTV is, and delivering this information back,” she told Police Oracle. 

The information would not only be reported back to the force, but shared with local councils who may be able to make structural changes such as with green spaces or lighting. 

Around a month ago, A/Inspector Perkins briefed the Commissioner on the idea, who decided it should be rolled out in every Basic Command Unit (BCU). 

The scheme will be run by Safer Neighbourhood Team officers across London and each BCU will individually decide what it looks like for them. The role of these officers is primarily to be ‘on the beat’ anyway. 

The overarching idea is that a member of the public will be ‘buddied’ up with an officer and join them on patrol, pointing out areas where they feel unsafe and discussing measures that could be taken to mitigate that. 

Engaging women who are mistrustful of the police in the first place may be an issue - one which A/Inspector Perkins acknowledged was a “realistic concern”. 

“Of course, I'd be silly to say, every woman is automatically going to go ‘Yeah, I want to do this because I trust the police.’ And actually, it is very important for us to get to the people that may have had negative experiences and learn why and how we can strive to improve and build that trust and confidence. 

“I'm very keen on not only utilizing the access that I've already got with various groups and contacts, but [listening] if anyone has any different ideas about how I can reach to the people.

“It's really important for us to not be limited to a certain demographic [...] with regards to the women we're talking to.

Commander Rachel Williams and Councillor Evelyn Akoto during a Walk and Talk in Peckham, south London

“But all we can do is what we have been doing to try and overcome that - working with people like our outreach team, who are actively going out into the community to recruit underrepresented areas of our community.”

A/Inspector Perkins explained how a range of methods would be used to try and encourage members of the public to engage with the scheme. Posters are currently being worked on which will have a QR code attached, making it easy for people to sign on via Eventbrite pages. 

Since Sarah Everard’s murder, the Met has launched a number of initiatives to combat VAWG, including the establishment of specialist predatory offenders’ teams as well as the deployment of 650 new officers in city centres. 

The first ‘walk and talk’ patrol took place in Southwark and Lambeth with 25 SNT officers in mid-May. Subsequent patrols continued across the following months. 

After running the scheme in their local areas, Southwark council and Lambeth council were both awarded a bid from the Home Office’s Safer Street’s Fund - the only two across the Met alongside the City of London Corporation.  

In addition to building trust and communication on this specific issue, A/Inspector Perkins has found there have been other benefits to the scheme which she hopes may also be useful for other departments including safeguarding teams. She said there was also potential to use the idea to establish those relationships with senior officers and enabling them to have a direct link with the people they work to protect. 

“The instruction briefing I gave to officers [on the first patrol] is this - this is a really honest moment for you to be a police officer and a woman. So I don't want you there to just 100 per cent hear about what the member of public's telling you. If you've got experiences and thoughts to share, that's really important as well, because that shows that we are transparent as a police service. And that will go far in making steps towards building that trust and confidence. 

“[The officers] were coming back to us again saying that was brilliant, I loved that, I learnt loads, we were really honest with each other, we have similar concerns or I could just put them straight about where they can report crime, which they hadn't had a chance to ask officers before. And it was really not only rewarding, but quite cathartic for the officers.” 

A summit of Police and Crime Commissioners last month stressed the importance of partnerships between forces, central government and victim groups in the face of VAWG.

But forces know very well they can increase officers on the street, have more targeted patrols or run more training programmes, but the success of these initiatives is dependent upon members of the public coming forward and reporting concerns. 

A/Inspector Perkins said: “My very public plea to anyone who goes on this, is tell your friends tell people, [...] you don't have to like us to do this. We still want to hear your opinion because your opinion is valuable.

“Let's make sure that we're speaking to the right women - and that is every woman. Any positive change starts at the communication and listening stage. And that needs to be active with longevity. It can't be short lived.”   

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