The commissioner of Britain’s biggest police force said she is “very confident” plans to deploy plain clothes officers outside bars and clubs in London are being “well received”.
The strategy, Project Vigilant, forms part of the Metropolitan Police’s action plan to tackle violence against women and girls.
It will be piloted in Southwark and Lambeth, but the force stressed officers will not be deployed inside night-time venues and will work in pairs.
Speaking outside Brixton Police Station after a meeting with community groups about the action plan, she said: “Vigilant, which we launched a couple of days ago, has been very well received locally and people on the street, but also women’s organisations, have all responded positively to this.
“It’s not completely new, it’s been trialled in Thames Valley, it’s being used in a number of other police services and it has dramatically reduced offences of sexual assault and sexual harassment in, for example, Oxford city centre, so if it works there, why wouldn’t we try it here.”
The idea is the undercover officers identify “anyone who may be displaying predatory behaviour” in public spaces and ask uniformed colleagues to step in when needed.
Force chiefs have already deployed 650 officers into new town centre teams, while patrols in open spaces and at transport hubs have been increased.
But the scheme has been strongly criticised by Reclaim These Streets.
A spokesperson for the group said: “How can we trust Met police officers to spot predators in bars and clubs if they can’t seem to spot and root out predators in their own ranks?
“The Met have lost the trust of women, and plainclothes officers will not win it back – instead for many women plainclothes officers outside bars is a sinister prospect. The Met should focus on tackling institutional misogyny instead of PR stunts like this.”
And Rebecca Goshawk of the charity Solace Women’s Aid, said: “At a time when trust in the police is so low, putting plain clothes into nightclubs is not the right focus. What we need the Met to be focusing on is systematic change which tackles perpetrators of violence and abuse in their own ranks and rebuilding trust with women.”