Can the Metropolitan Police rebuild public trust?

Hunt for a police chief beings as Cressida Dick steps down from top job

Metropolitan Police
(Image credit: N/A)

A search is underway for Cressida Dick’s successor after she stood down last night as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police amid mounting tension with Sadiq Khan

Dick resigned the £230,000 a year role after the mayor of London accused her of failing to deal with a culture of misogyny and racism within the force.

She told reporters she was left with “no choice” but to step aside after Khan made it clear that he had no confidence in her leadership. The announcement came after the mayor said public trust in the Met had been “shattered” by recent scandals.

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No way back

Khan had demanded a plan from the police commissioner on how the force would “win back the trust and confidence” of the public prior to her resignation.

He said he was “disgusted and angry” about the litany of police failings that has come to light in recent months, and was therefore prepared to “take action” against Dick unless she offered a convincing plan to restore the public’s “knocked and shattered” confidence.

His intervention came after a probe into the behaviour of 14 police officers based in Charing Cross uncovered a series of messages, sent between 2016 and 2018, where officers joked about rape and made homophobic, racist and misogynistic comments.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct branded the messages as “disgraceful” and made 15 recommendations on how the culture within the Met can be overhauled. It also warned the actions were “not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Khan said he had told Dick to produce a “response to the examples not of one officer [but] 14 officers being involved in racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic and the like behaviour”. He also said he had asked to see what “her plans are to win back the trust and confidence” of the public and that his support for Dick had been “contingent upon the response”.

‘A series of scandals’

Khan he repeatedly questioned whether the culture of the force had “fostered a series of scandals”, said The Guardian.

Recent scandals include two officers taking photographs at the scene where two sisters lay murdered in a northwest London park, as well as the Metropolitan Police’s leadership’s mishandling of the Sarah Everard case, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a serving police officer.

At the time, Dick said she recognised that “a precious bond of trust has been damaged” between the public and the police, and she would ensure that lessons were learned from the case.

She faced pressure to resign then, and several “high-profile” figures wrote an open letter accusing her of “presiding over a culture of incompetence and cover-up”, said the BBC.

In the weeks following Everard’s murder, a YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women coalition found 47% of women and 40% of men reported declining trust in the police.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said at the time that “serious questions” needed to be answered by Scotland Yard, but ultimately backed Dick, whose contract as the head of London’s police force had been extended by another two years that month.

More recently, an Ipsos-Mori poll suggested that public trust in the police has been further eroded by their handling of lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street, with fewer than a third of Britons confident that the investigation will be “independent or lead to disciplinary action”.

The Met’s “foot-dragging reluctance to investigate” now looks like a “catastrophic misjudgment”, said The Guardian’s columnist Gaby Hinsliff, who suggested that distrust of the police had now gone “mainstream”.

Efforts to improve policing

Louisa Rolfe, an assistant commissioner at the Met, told the Financial Times in December that Everard’s murder was “a watershed moment” for the police, after which Dick launched a “wholesale review of culture and standards” of the force.

Other limited efforts to improve policing in other parts of the country have seen some success through the use of “evidence-based policing” where new methods “backed by data” are applied to police work, said the paper.

Avon and Somerset Police have taken part in a Home Office backed trial of of “pulse patrols”, where officers “embark on 15-minute foot patrols of places that generate the highest number of calls about crime at the busiest times”. Targeted areas have seen a 13% fall in street violence compared with previous years.

Dal Babu, a former Metropolitan Police commander who now advises Khan, said culture change was needed to rebuild trust in the force.

“It’s about getting the culture of the organisation to change, understanding [public] confidence, engaging with the community and working more effectively in terms of partnerships,” he told the paper. “It’s not rocket science.”

Life after Dick

A Home Office source told The Times there are “no suitable candidates” to replace Dick and that the search for her replacement could therefore take some time.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu was seen as a favourite, but has clashed with Priti Patel and Boris Johnson over the issue of race, prompting the source to state that “No. 10 would block Basu even if we wanted him, which we don’t”.

Home Secretary Patel is also “said to be unimpressed with the UK’s other police leaders, several of whom she clashed with over the Black Lives Matter protests”, the paper added. But she “might favour” Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall.

A Home Office source said that an interim commissioner could be brought in while a full application process was undertaken. Politico’s London Playbook said there are a number of “runners and riders” in the frame.

Stephen House, the deputy commissioner, is an “obvious candidate”. Mark Rowley, former assistant commissioner for specialist operations, is also seen as “something of a reformer”, having recently criticised the Met’s over-reliance on stop and search.

Andy Cooke, former Merseyside Police chief “cut his teeth jailing dozens of millionaire drug kingpins in Liverpool” and has fans in government circles. And Essex police chief B.J. Harrington has won rave reviews in the county, but did himself “few favours” last summer when he criticised Patel over the freeze in police pay.

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