“You can’t restructure your way out of a cultural problem,” Baroness Louise Casey (pictured) told the London Assembly’s police and crime committee this morning, looking relaxed and relieved that her plain-spoken report about the many failings of the Metropolitan Police has been soberly and respectfully received.
She still wasn’t pulling punches though. Yes, there might be a case for a new Policing Board for London, similar to the model used for Transport for London and chaired by the Mayor. But the top priority for Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, she said, should be to “clean up the Met” and do it fast.
That means sorting out the vetting of recruits right away, purging the prejudice from a wretched misconduct process that – in Casey’s words at City Hall – suggests “you don’t believe black people or women when they complain” about their treatment as Met staff, and generally insisting with “more determination and clarity” on professional and ethical good practice throughout the organisation.
Casey’s words bring two contrasting thoughts to mind: one, those requests of a public service which can, quite literally, hold Londoners’ safety and liberty in its hands seem so beginners’-level basic the wonder is they need to be made at all; two, getting a frighteningly large proportion of the Met’s 34,000 warranted cops to meet even the bog standard that should be routine for police officers looks a large task.
I won’t reprise the examples of gutter attitudes and behaviour by far too many Met officers Casey and her team have compiled, cataloguing a mentality found in the sorts of people you cross streets and move railway carriages to avoid rather than trust further than they can be thrown.
I will instead quote Assembly Member (AM) Sem Moema who, having diligently read all 363 pages of the report, said she was just starting secondary school in 1993 when Stephen Lawrence was murdered and, given subsequent rates of progress, will be in her 70s before the rot of bigotry is purged. Her thoughts were very much with “those black and minority ethnic staff and women who work in the police service who run a gauntlet every day going to work, are at risk of losing their jobs and of being stuck at the bottom of the ladder”.
It is atrocious that an organisation supposed to serve Londoners in all our vast variety tolerates and even nurtures so much overt and covert discrimination and in particular – for pity’s sake – among specialist units entrusted with firearms. Rowley’s first challenge will be arduous to meet, but it helps that it is easy to describe: identify the lowlife in the ranks and kick its ass out of the force.
BBC Home Editor Mark Easton has commented that Casey’s criticism is so stern “it is almost certain that trust and confidence levels in the police in London will plummet further” and make it more difficult to recruit women and people from ethnic and sexual minorities. It’s easy to see what he means. But perhaps there is a chance of an opposite and heartening effect too.
Bad cops are a very bad thing of themselves, but their poisonous effects spread far more widely. Casey was again at pains today to underline that there are plenty of good cops too, and that they are among the victims of those who fail the most basic tests of professional competence and human decency.
Rowley now has the backing and the opportunity to become the most important reforming Met Commissioner since Sir Robert Mark in the 1970s by seizing the Met by its braces and dragging its attitude to all aspects of its work up to bare minimum levels. Casey’s report makes clear that there are plenty of Met police of every rank who yearn to do their important work honourably and well without “boys’ club” nasties holding them back and dragging their reputations down.
Competent policing covers many bases. Not being full of crap is one of them. Others include looking after evidence properly, keeping records in order and regarding co-operating with democratic scrutiny as one of your duties, not something to be evaded and impeded.
“The Met has a culture of defensiveness and denial,” Casey told AMs, setting out, for example, the difficulties faced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, whose remit includes holding the Met to account, with getting straight answers out of them. “Long on information, short on candour,” was her summary. The committee heard this morning about huge transparency deficits to be made up about the way stop-and-search is conducted and the use of strip searches.
Casey also made a plea on the part of Rowley, his deputy Dame Lynne Owens and other Met bosses to give them chance to digest her report’s findings, incorporate them into the Turnaround Plan already launched and build a major programme for reform. That meant AMs on the committee think afresh about their role.
Coming before it, Casey said, is anticipated by Met chiefs with dread, and preparations for appearances take up hours. Her request? “Step back, consider your role think about how we can actually help the Met get on to the next stage.” Turning the Met round is a mission for many hands.
Dave Hill: Mark Rowley’s top task is to make sure good cops thrive