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The Met: safe in the hands of the high-ups?

THE METROPOLITAN POLICE have today announced the latest step they are taking in their plan to rebuild public trust in the capital’s law enforcement body – which was shattered after the murder of Sarah Everard in March this year.

It was not just that Sarah Everard was murdered by a police officer who used his official identity to lure her to her death.  It is also that signs that he was a potentially dangerous man were not noticed or not acted on by his colleagues, revealing serious flaws in the culture of the Metropolitan Police. Dame Elish Angiolini will be leading an independent review to address the issues raised in this case at an as yet unspecified point in the future.

The Metropolitan Police did not wait for the inquiry. In October they launched a plan: “Rebuilding Trust”. It listed twelve “immediate” priorities which the service would take to “raise standards and improve our culture”. Initial work on these priorities has already led to the Metropolitan Police finding additional areas to investigate – including how it listens to the public’s concerns. This week the Met added another point: a commitment to spend six months looking at how it can “strengthen key processes including initial officer recruitment” in order to “improve the organisation’s culture and standards.”

While all this reviewing and delivering goes on, the Metropolitan Police is also preparing for Baroness Casey of Blackstock to undertake an “independent and far-reaching review” of Metropolitan Police standards and culture, which is expected to start in the new year. Commander Rachel Williams is leading the Metropolitan Police programme to rebuild Trust.  She welcomed the Rebuilding Trust Plan and said, “We recognise the challenge we face in instilling confidence back in those we serve, but it is critical and right that all Londoners can trust our officers, staff and volunteers whenever they encounter them.”

Who has to change?
There is no reason to doubt that Commander Williams is completely sincere in her desire to drive change in the Metropolitan Police.  However, she goes on to talk about the Metropolitan Police having “professionalism, integrity, courage and compassion” and the task being to “root out those who do not uphold our values, those who betray the public…” It seems she is taking a “let’s find the rotten apples” approach rather than having an open mind over why officers tolerate misogyny in their colleagues – in cases such as the murder of Sarah Everard and subsequent ones such as circulating photos of murdered women.

One could also say that the phrase “instilling confidence back in those we serve” is strange. It sounds as if it is the public whose attitude has to change: we have to be won over to the belief that most officers are decent chaps (actually, many of them are).  Commander Williams could have said that the Metropolitan Police has “many changes to make before the public can have confidence in us”. That may have more closely reflected where the onus of change lies.

Can we trust the high ups?
The whole approach to the need to change seems to be prolonged and left to the Great and the Good at the top of the societal food chain.  Inquire, review, inquire… as months pass.

There was an earlier time when public trust in the Metropolitan Police was low: the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then it was probably a bit more about racism than sexism.  The Leader of the Greater London Council (one Ken Livingstone) set up a police committee, where GLA members and members of the public sat down together to scrutinise what the police were up to. The model was repeated across London Councils.

Police Committees did not rush to find judges and members of the House of Lords to investigate at length.  If the public’s trust was broken, the public could get together and act together under the umbrella of the police committee – pointing to the problems and throwing in solutions.

Sometimes you don’t need people who have attained high public office to point out what the woman in the street would describe as “rather obvious” (though she would probably use more robust terms). The people in the street are the experts, and we can suggest solutions ourselves. Sadly, it’s an approach the current London Mayor Sadiq Khan shows little inclination to follow.  Perhaps we should find someone to do an inquiry about him.  In the meantime, women members of the public will have to wait months to see the first signs of institutional change – and longer to see the results of the inquries.

●Read more about it:
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Massive police operation brings murderer to justice

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