The European Premier of Captain Marvel at the Curzon Cinema in the West End last week had some serious Hollywood muscle: Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson and Eltham’s own Jude Law.
But among the specially-invited guests was a Lambeth police officer, sharing the red carpet with the female stars were some of the bravest women in the country, from Britain’s armed forces.
Also rubbing shoulders with the glitterati was Khafi Kareem, a black woman police officer from Lambeth.
She was there with the deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, Lucy D’Orsi, to represent the force.
But within hours, the 29-year-old was back at Brixton Police Station, answering the call across the borough. And this week she was at the Culture Tree Centre, Commercial Way, Peckham, to tell families why she is a police woman and how she hopes to do some good by waring the uniform.
She joined the force in 2015, after four years as a special constable, having worked as an actor – she was in a short called The Evolution of Us and a Nigerian feature called Lost in London. She also trained shop assistants for Marks & Spencer, while training 16 hours a month to be a voluntary officer.
But there was nothing glamourous about one of her motivations for donning the uniform.
A friend, Kodjo Yenga, 16, was murdered by a gang for straying on their turf in Hammersmith in March 2007. He had been in her French class at school.
“I was devastated and in shock and disbelief,” she said. “It wasn’t until the media started writing about it and flowers were left at the scene that it really came home to me.”
Khafi, a practising church-goer whose mother is a Christian and father a Muslim, added: “I have a sharp sense of injustice and want to make the world a better place. grew up on an estate where people would get stopped just for having a conversation in the street – when they are not being a problem.
“I thought I should not complain about that if I was not prepared to do something about it myself. Next day I saw an advert on a bus for specials and I thought ‘This is a sign’.
“My family were not keen. My elder brothers laughed at me – saying ‘you are just a skinny girl – you can’t arrest me.
“Part of me wanted to prove them wrong. I want to make a difference instead of shouting on the sidelines.
“People do focus on the punitive aspect – but we lock criminals up and help their victims – of domsetic violence and child abuse.
“How will racial abuse change if people do not stand up for other cultures. I wanted to be part of the solution.
“When I joined, I did not tell them, unless I knew them very well. Black people would say I was a sellout.
“Some would be stopped and searched 15 times in a week, so I did not want to share details of my job.
“But as time has gone on, I have become more proud of what I do.I help people. And I can break down preconceptions.
“People forget we are human, with a home and family, people who care about us. Some of the visits I do, people have never seen a black woman police officer.
“Apart from once, I have never been treated differently in the Met. These days, though, it can be more subtle and less overt.
“Stop and search has been disproportionate against black people.
“But sometimes, there will be a group of black boys talking and my colleagues will go ‘What’s happening there’ and I will be able to say ‘They are just having a conversation’
“I do not think there is a magic want to make it better. But the whole commuity is like a body – and the hands and the legs need to work together.
Khafi studied French and Italian and Royal Holloway University and also speaks Yoruba, a Nigerian languague. She often makes use of her languages at work – and has been a translator for the Met’s female genital mutilation team, spotting victims coming through Heathrow.
“You see young girls by themselves who look dejected – you can just tell after a conversation that they do not have a reason to be travelling during the school term,” she said.
Lambeth has the higest concentration of mental health issues in the country, so call-outs can often mutate.
But she also dealt with the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster – she was seconded to the team helping victims, near to where she went to college. She has dealt with suicides and bodies found after being left for weeks.
And she also has to tackle knife crime. “What we are seeing now is young people carrying them with their books because they need to protect themselves just getting to school, not because they are in gangs,” said Khafi, who is currently doing sergeant’s exams and hopes at some stage to become a detective.
“A lot of children get told if they are bad, the police will come and take them away. But we are also there if you get lost or something happens to you.”
PC Khafi Kareem is likely to be part of a celebration in May to mark the 100th anniversary of women police officers.
There will be a special service at Westminster Abbey and a recreation of an iconic photo taken on foreign office steps of a group of those women, by putting 12 serving officers in specially commissioned 1919 uniforms.
Mini truncheons and a suffragette sash have gone on show to the public for the first time as part of a new exhibition to mark the centenary
The special event at the Met Heritage Centre (MHC) in West Brompton was opened by Commissioner Cressida Dick last month [18 Feb], almost a hundred years to the day that Londoners witnessed female Met officers patrolling the streets of their city for the first time.
The exhibits have been selected from the archives by curator Dr Clare Smith and her team and illustrate the journey of women in the force during the past century. They cover a wide variety of themes including recruitment, uniform, anniversaries, sport and achievements.
They include‘lady’ truncheons specially designed in reduced size to fit into the standard issue handbags of the time. The first officers had no powers of arrest and were not even trusted to be able to handle ‘intelligence’. Instead, they were instructed to pass on any they received ‘post haste’ to a male officer.
There are sketches for the 1968 uniform devised by Norman Hartnell, who designed the Queen’s wedding and coronation gowns. The Met beleived the uniform needed to be glamourous to attract recruits.
The Met has just launched its new women specific recruitment campaign, ‘Strong’, which aims to boost numbers in line with the Commissioner’s stated aspiration to increase the percentage of women officers from the current 26% to parity as a long-term goal.
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