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Many police forces in England and Wales would have been glad to see the back of 2021, a year of changing Covid restrictions and bad press. None more so than the Metropolitan Police which, according to its commissioner, experienced some of the “most dreadful events” in its 190-year history.
But this year is unlikely to be much easier for the nation’s largest police service as it braces for the release of at least two high-profile reviews into the Met’s conduct, culture, vetting, and training. This week alone the Met has offered an apology to a woman detained in 2013, after acknowledging she was subjected to “sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language” while being strip searched, and found itself in the unprecedented position of opening an investigation into a number of events that took place in Downing Street itself over the course of the pandemic.
Beyond “partygate,” one of the Met’s key challenges is to repair trust with women and girls following a spate of horrific attacks. A YouGov poll in October commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) – a group which brings together specialist women’s support services, researchers, activists, survivors and NGOs – found that 47 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men have less trust in the police following the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021.
Other incidents involving Met officers have also attracted public attention, including the sentencing of two constables for taking photos of two murdered sisters and sharing them on WhatsApp groups. Data from the Independent Office for Police Conduct last year showed that the highest level of corruption referrals concerned police officers engaging in inappropriate sexual contact with often vulnerable members of the public.
The issue of the so-called “canteen culture” in the Met is one that is being looked at
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said last year that the police knew “a precious bond has been broken” and the actions of some officers were of serious concern and fell far below standards. In response, the force launched a so-called Rebuilding Trust plan to strengthen key processes, through external communication and community engagement, over the next six months.
That followed the Home Office’s publication of the “tackling violence against women and girls’ strategy” in July 2021, which contained a commitment from the Met to “work to improve substantially the level of confidence Londoners have in our response to all forms of violence against women and girls.”
For some, however, the Met’s approach has lacked substance. Deniz Uğur, Deputy Director of EVAW, said much of the Met’s response to VAWG was “superficial” and a “PR exercise.”
“We are yet to see the meaningful work needed to understand and begin to address the institutional cultures that underpin and enable police perpetrators to abuse without consequence,” she told The House.
The issue of the so-called “canteen culture” in the Met is one that is being looked at as part of an independent review of the force’s culture and standards of behaviour led by Baroness Casey. While a formal timetable has yet to be set, Commissioner Cressida Dick has said she expects it to take “at least six months.” Many expect its findings to make for uncomfortable reading for her office.
Susannah Fish, a former acting Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police who has argued that there is an institutional issue with misogyny in the police, said the Met should not delay in taking action.
“The Met don’t need to wait. Actually, they know, or they’ve been told what’s wrong and they need to get on and sort stuff out…if they sit on their hands now, that would be unforgivable,” she told The House.
Vetting and training processes in the Met are also being examined in Casey’s review and in the Home Office’s independent inquiry into Couzens’ time in the force. Fish argues this is where the root of the issue lies, and that hypermasculinity, aggression and loyalty are traits that are sought out in recruitment and reinforced in training and when new recruits become operational.
The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee is also carrying out a number of inquiries examining issues relating to violence against women and girls, looking in particular at how police forces across the country could improve how they respond to crimes such as stalking, spiking of drinks and rape.
“Women and girls need to see that crimes committed against them are taken seriously and view the police as somewhere they can go to be supported and access justice,” Dame Diana Johnson, the chair of the committee, told The House.
Although Dick is the first ever female Met Commissioner, some critics argue that new leadership is required, and the two-year extension of her fixed-term term appointment – confirmed late last year – shows a lack of commitment to reform.
The Mayor of London has backed Home Secretary Priti Patel’s move to keep the Commissioner in post until 2024. However, a spokesperson for the mayor told The House that Sadiq Khan has been “clear with the Commissioner about the scale of change that is needed” and that the Casey review into their workings is the start of “the long, but absolutely vital process of restoring the confidence of all Londoners in our police.”
Questions have also been raised in Parliament and by campaigners about the government’s plans to give the Met Police significant new powers to clamp down on protests and protestors – designed in particular to counter the tactics of environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion – and carry out random stop and search, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill before these reviews have concluded and the Met has responded.
Some have voiced concern the Met’s already difficult year could be made even more challenging
The Mayor of London has urged the government to reconsider the current provisions regarding protests and sentencing in the legislation, his spokesperson said.
Some have voiced concern the Met’s already difficult year could be made even more challenging if it has to enforce controversial new measures before it has addressed the issues raised in the reviews about its culture and behaviour.
“It’s likely to be a disaster, having looked at the proposed legislation, in terms of presenting even more headaches, challenges and contradictions for police officers to make sound operational decisions,” Susannah Fish warned.
The House Briefing is running an online event on Women’s Safety on 1 March 2022. You can learn more and register for the event here
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