Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
I imagine most people living in London want their police force to prioritise tackling crime.
It’s interesting, then, that it took a report released early this month into the culture among officers at Charing Cross police station for the Mayor of London to oust Met Commissioner Cressida Dick.
The report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) “found evidence of a culture of ‘toxic masculinity’, sexual harassment and misogyny”.
Text conversations between police officers containing sexually explicit, misogynistic, violent, and racist language were published by the watchdog as evidence of institutional failures.
But, while the revelations of distasteful and downright offensive “banter” among police officers is rightly a cause of major concern, particularly in light of the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of PC Wayne Couzens, it’s curious that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the mayor.
Sadiq Khan’s decision to focus on the Met’s “toxic culture” of sexism and racism may appear worthy, and claims of discrimination must be dealt with, but tarnishing an entire institution by the actions of individual rank-and-file police officers within the force is irresponsible and unfair.
Interesting, too, that these revelations come at a time when there’s never been more diversity and inclusion training available, never been more money spent on rainbow-coloured pride merchandise and never been more efforts by the police to encourage the reporting of hate offences.
The mayor may talk a good game about the Met’s failures on diversity, the need for “cultural change”, and the importance of rooting out all forms of prejudice, but this also adds to a perception that tackling crime no longer tops the list of police priorities. Particularly when he appears to have turned a blind eye over the years to serious operational failures under Dick’s watch.
Accusations of prejudice must be taken seriously but we must also be wary of a culture that leads to more emphasis being placed on diversity and inclusion than tackling crime, what the police are fundamentally there to do.
Following a dip during the pandemic, London recorded 30 teenage homicides last year – the worst annual death toll on record. At the same time, many Londoners feel it’s no longer worth even reporting more minor offences such as burglaries and muggings (besides to claim insurance), as the force simply won’t investigate. Indeed, last year only 3.8 per cent of house burglaries led to a charge or other sanction.
Despite these failures, you’re more likely to hear the mayor grandstanding on matters such as climate change, mask wearing, and foreign policy than you are to see him acknowledge any responsibility for crime on the streets of London – despite the fact he is the Police and Crime Commissioner for London.
Similar accusations have, of course, been levelled at Dick and the Met. When police officers were pictured taking the knee during Black Lives Matter protests or frolicking alongside Extinction Rebellion activists, trust in the impartiality of the police plummeted.
Many are simply sick of the police playing politics.
The ousting of Dick may, as chairman of the Met Police Federation Ken Marsh claimed this week, be politically motivated, a scapegoat to “deflect from [politicians] own failings”.
But this shouldn’t detract from Dick’s well-documented failures.
Indeed, however offensive the Whatsapp messages detailed in the report are, it’s clear the Met Police has many, many more serious problems to contend with – not least the number of accusations of corruption, cover-ups and heavy-handed, politically-charged policing under Dame Cressida’s watch.
The hunt for a new commissioner is likely to be a fraught one – and there is no guarantee the replacement will restore much-needed confidence in the police force or, crucially, make London’s streets any safer.
Further, it’s unlikely that Priti Patel’s idea of what would make a competent commissioner will match that of Khan’s. While she has the final say, Khan is likely to throw his weight around – and attempt to veto any candidate he deems inadequately committed to his own agenda.
As important as trust in the police among different communities is, ultimately confidence depends on results.
The new commissioner must be appointed on what one would traditionally think of as police leader attributes, namely their ability to tackle crime.