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Howe's that for starters as 'women only' exhibition born out of chance encounter

Centenary celebration of female officers on the frontline in unique photographic spectacle
Published - 03/05/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

The amateur camera skills of former Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe have “accidentally” spawned a unique photographic exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the first women joining the Met.

The retired commissioner was spotted snapping away in Westminster one day by professional photographer Christopher Jonas and the project was born from a follow-up meeting.

The result is an exhibition at City Hall in central London with 2,000 images of more than 100 female officers from 24 separate units in a variety of frontline roles ranging from firearms to the mounted branch and the marine police.

The special selection of large format shots which are now on show in the iconic building that is home to London’s Mayor give a unique insight into the wide diversity of roles occupied by women in the Met of 2019.

From neighbourhood officers on patrol at Notting Hill carnival, to firearms officers on duty at Heathrow airport, and women facing a mock riot during public order training, the photos showcase the dedication and professionalism displayed by officers at moments of both calm and crisis.

The 'Women of the Metropolitan Police Service: A Strong Future' exhibition, which is the latest in a series of special celebratory events to mark the centenary of the first female police officers going out on patrol in London in 1919, includes Commissioner Cressida Dick and features locations ranging from the driving school at Hendon to the stables at Great Scotland Yard.

  • PC Marcia White in riot gear

Among the officers captured are PC Marcia White, seen in riot gear at the Met’s specialist public order training centre in Gravesend; PC Lucy Arnold of the mounted branch; PC Charlene Pierre and Sgt Sarah-Jayne Davies, a member of the marine policing unit; and PC Charmeon Mitchell who achieved her lifetime ambition to be an officer at the age of 50.

The Met is keen to bring more women into Britain’s number force.

It recently launched a ‘female-orientated’ recruitment drive with women currently making up 27 per cent of the Met workforce.

Policing’s top job may be in the hands of Commissioner Dick but of the 7,881 women officers in the force – only five per cent (387) are in senior roles.

Met Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said: “I’m delighted that we have been able to secure City Hall as a setting for these wonderful photographs, which demonstrate just how far we have come since those first pioneers stepped out on patrol in February 1919.

“The diversity of roles on show that are being undertaken by the women in the photos represent the dedication, expertise and professionalism that thousands of female officers display day in and day out to keep London safe.

“I hope they prove an inspiration to other women to come and help us forge the path ahead as we look to recruit a new generation of officers for the future.”

  • Undergoing training

Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, added: “Women play an absolutely essential role in policing our city and this exhibition is shining a light on the progress that has been made since women were first allowed to join the Met.

“The Mayor and I are committed to making sure we have a police force that is as diverse as the communities it serves, and it is great to see so many initiatives in place to encourage women to join the Met Police.

“I hope the exhibition inspires more women and girls in London to join our police service.”

Photographer Christopher Jonas was given unique access to embed himself with an array of departments between April and October 2018 – with the aim of capturing the ‘unposed’ reality that is the benchmark he sets himself for all his photographic work.

The ambitious project resulted in almost 2,000 photographs of more than 100 different women from 24 separate departments during his time with the force.

One of these was the special escort group, which has two women among its 40 highly trained motorcyclists providing high level security.

  • Photographer Christoper Jonas

Mr Jonas explained how the project came from a meeting he had with Lord Hogan-Howe after he spotted him taking photos in famous London church.

His previous projects have also included cathedrals of England, Westminster School and the Marines.

Working with a special lightweight Leica with a small lens, he aims to be as unobtrusive as possible to avoid the photographer becoming ‘part of the story’ and achieve a naturalistic finish.

Mr Jonas added: “I feel very privileged at having been able to observe such a huge wide variety of roles being undertaken by women in the Met at such close range.

“What struck me was the degree to which they unconditionally throw themselves into the front line in order to protect the public – the professionalism, the dedication to duty, the expertise, that is continually on display.

“There is a clear subordination of the personal to the public good that all the women clearly shared.

“I was also struck by the enthusiasm shown by many in wanting to constantly improve themselves by taking on additional courses to gain further qualifications, the desire to increase their knowledge and skills when they are already in taxing, time consuming jobs which require physical and mental endurance.”

Some highlights recalled by Jonas include his time at Hendon as a passenger with driving school instructor PC Sarah Craven, watching her incredible prowess at the wheel first hand, and an incident in Hackney he attended with PS Ali Lapper and her German shepherd dog Gemma.

He recalled: “We were in a nasty situation, serious disorder, with many police cars having been called to the scene, and a lot of threatening, loutish behaviour around us.

“The way she brought a very volatile situation into line, and then went ahead to search a property with no idea what she might face with no qualms, really struck me.”

  • PC Charmeon Mitchell looks at her picture

On another occasion, Mr Jonas witnessed neighbourhood officer PC Lauren Smith-Golding calm another very volatile situation involving some youths suspected of gang involvement, before finding and removing three dangerous knives from the hiding place in bushes where they had been secreted.

He said: “If I had to sum up my view of female officers in a few words, it would be simply ‘very impressed'.”

One of the women featured, PC Selina Earle, a firearms officer based at Heathrow, who has been in the Met for 11 years, said: “I felt proud to be photographed to represent females in firearms and it feels great to ‘break the mould’ of what the public may think a firearms officer looks like and what they are accustomed to.”

PC Mitchell, who recently joined up aged 50 having always wanted to be a police officer since she was a child, said: “I love photography and was pleasantly surprised to have been captured by the camera when I was assisting a member of the public.

“In my case I never gave up on the idea of being a police officer and followed what I always wanted to do, it’s a challenging and rewarding role and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would like to believe I am an example of the fact that age shouldn’t limit you.”

The exhibition at City Hall runs until the end of May, and is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm on weekdays, with a late closure of 6pm on Fridays.

The 100 years’ centenary campaign launched on November 22 last year with a photoshoot outside the iconic New Scotland Yard building featuring female officers from all ranks, roles and racial backgrounds to mark the start of a series of events designed to mark historic milestones important in the history of female policing.

Over the past months these have included an exhibition of historic items at the Met’s heritage centre and a celebratory procession of female officers and other emergency service workers on International Women’s Day on March 8.

The culmination will be a special service at Westminster Abbey on May 17, a hundred years after female officers were first seen in uniform at a public event when they policed a similar service at the Abbey in 1919.

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