This article was written by Dr David Baker, Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology:
‘You fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’ sang Bob Marley on the civil rights anthem ‘Get up, Stand up.’ The Casey report into the Metropolitan Police demonstrates that it’s time we stood up for our right to not be policed by an institution identified as racist, sexist and homophobic. Possibly the most damning finding (in a report full of them) is that police in London no longer enjoy the consensus of public support. Without public consensus, the police cannot pretend to be a legitimate publicly funded organisation.
What service does the Met provide?
The Met police budget in 2022 was £4.27bn. What service is the public getting for this eye watering level of expenditure? According to Casey, one in which stop and search and the use of force on black Londoners is excessive; and in which a ‘toxic culture’ exists that enables racists, bullies, misogynists, and homophobes to exercise their discriminatory practices. In my experience of doing research and teaching about policing, it’s common for people to point at the US as being far worse in comparison to the UK. This report should give everyone serious pause for thought to consider the reality of day-to-day policing in the largest city in Europe. Casey states that the crisis at the Met is ‘existential.’
A fish rots from the head down
If a fish rots from the head down, then we should consider the role of former Commissioner Cressida Dick in protecting rank and file Met officers on the basis that there would always be an occasional ‘bad un’ in the Met. She would know. This was the officer who was Gold Commander in the catastrophic operation that led to Jean Charles de Menezes being assassinated by mistake by undercover officers in 2005. It didn’t stop her promotion to the most senior police officer in England and Wales. This is another twist on the same Met system that protected and rewarded rapists, sexual abusers, racists and homophobes within their ranks. The current Commissioner, Mark Rowley was a former Met Assistant Commissioner. How was he unable to see the apparently obvious failings identified by Casey during his previous employment; and why should the public now trust him to effect major changes in the Met?
Trust arrives by foot and leaves on horseback.
If public consent is ‘broken’, as Casey says it is, then there should be serious questions about how it could be repaired. If her findings had been about a school or NHS Trust, the public would be legitimately demanding the management immediately stand down and expecting that radical plans be put in place to produce immediate change, but it seems somehow policing doesn’t work like that.
Beware ‘watershed moments.’
Whilst the Casey report can be seen as a ‘watershed moment,’ we should bear in mind that there have been plenty of other watershed moments in the Met’s recent history. Scarman’s review into the Brixton uprisings; Macpherson’s inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder stating the Met were institutionally racist; Leveson’s inquiry identifying dubious police relationships with the tabloid press; and more recently the inquiry into the Daniel Morgan murder labelling the Met as ‘institutionally corrupt.’ We can already see how the Met will try and weather this storm. Commissioner Rowley states that he will resist using the word ‘institutional’ about racism, sexism and homophobia in his force. He does, however, admit all those issues are ‘systemic.’ But if they are, then they are systemic within the institution in which they exist, surely?
This is the beginning of a strategy to limit reputational damage that we’ve seen police trundle out scores of times before. Police wait for the storm to pass, knowing that if they can navigate the next couple of weeks, the news cycle will move on, diverting attention from their failings. They can then try and regain the initiative by proposing how they will enact reform ‘in due course’. Just as was the case after other major scandals, the Met will say it will ‘learn lessons.’ One wonders how much more can be written about failures in the Met. How many reviews, reports, and inquiries exposing serious failures need to happen before police practice changes?
Political will and imagination
In the aftermath of the Good Friday agreement the police service in Northern Ireland underwent radical change. Change in policing is possible, but there must be political will to change, and this is where the biggest doubt lies. Improving safety and reducing harm could be achieved by actively involving non-policing organisations in practice in areas such as domestic abuse, rape, mental health, homelessness, and youth offending. There is a great deal of specialist knowledge in the UK in these areas that isn’t being tapped into, and this requires serious consideration. Specialist units could also be set up to investigate, dismiss and prosecute officers. All of this would require fresh thinking about what we want from policing in a way that seems beyond politicians of any mainstream party. Damning findings in a report are a step forward in revealing the truth about police practice; making improvements to that practice is another thing altogether.