By Anna Noble
Can we trust the police?
Recent scandals, allegations of police brutality, and the revelation that fifteen serving or former police officers have been convicted of murdering women since 2009 have cast doubt in the public mind over the police’s propriety.
The Met under the leadership of Cressida Dick has been condemned for failing on multiple occasions. Security breaches at the European Championship Final in June and high profile stop and search failures, including the British Olympian Bianca Williams, have damaged the organisation’s credibility. This was then exacerbated by the disturbing incident that saw two Met police officers arrested after taking selfies with the bodies of two murdered women in Wembley Park. Their mother, Mina Smallman, heavily criticised the Met over the incident saying “if ever we needed an example of how toxic it has become, those police officers felt so safe, so untouchable, that they felt they could take photographs of dead black girls and send them on. It speaks volumes of the ethos that runs through the Metropolitan Police.”
Questions have also been raised about the suitability of Cressida Dick to remain as the Met Commissioner. Ms Dick is no stranger to controversy. Her initial appointment to the Met was met with backlash, many citing her involvement in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The Brazilian national was repeatedly shot in the head at a train station in July 2005, having been mistaken for a suicide bomber. He was innocent: a case of mistaken identity. Ms Dick was the senior officer responsible for authorising a shoot-to-kill command.
These issues are not new, with the Met having a long history of misconduct allegations. The Daniel Morgan report released earlier this year went further in its criticism of the Met, finding that the organisation was “institutionally corrupt”. Daniel Morgan was a private detective who was found dead with an axe embedded into his neck in 1987. The investigation was highly flawed and failed to properly investigate the murder, resulting in no prosecutions. Police officers were also accused of selling information to The News of the World for private financial gain. The ruling echoed the findings into the Stephen Lawrence case in 1999 which found that the Met was “institutionally racist” in how it handled the investigation.
The rape and murder of Durham alumna Sarah Everard has brought the Met’s propriety once again to the forefront of the national conversation. Ms Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a serving member of the Metropolitan Police force. Wayne Couzens falsely used his authority as an officer to arrest Ms Everard in front of witnesses, citing alleged ‘breaches of Covid-19 laws’.
The Met have subsequently faced accusations from across the political spectrum of chronic failings after it emerged that Ms Everard’s killer had been accused of indecent exposure three times, the first being in 2015 and the most recent just two weeks prior to her murder. It also emerged that he made female coworkers so uncomfortable that he was nicknamed ‘the rapist’. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has launched an inquiry into the failings of the Met, and how Ms Everard’s killer was allowed to remain as a police officer.
The force also faced intense backlash and allegations of brutality for their heavy-handed approach in shutting down a vigil for Sarah Everard. In addition, The Evening Standard reports allegations accusing officers of approaching those arrested at the vigil on dating apps such as Tinder. They were later cleared of wrongdoing, but this has done nothing to help the Met’s public image.
The ‘one bad apple’ argument often touted in support of the Met rings hollow when incidents of violence have become so commonplace. A former ex-chief superintendent at the Met, Parm Sandhu criticised the culture within the Met and British policing in general, claiming that female officers fear reporting their male colleagues for misconduct because of potential retaliation, such as being left to “get kicked in” if they call for help whilst on duty. Public criticism of the Met is mounting, with cross-party agreement that there are systemic flaws that need to be stamped out.
The Met has always had significant PR issues, due to the nature of policing, but the Sarah Everard case is perhaps a watershed for police reform. These reforms must be not only cultural but institutional – from top to bottom, change is needed.
The attitude of the police towards women and girls therefore needs to be the organisation’s top focus. Domestic violence and rape, two crimes of which most victims are female, have seen prosecution rates plummet. On a basic issue of women’s safety, if the police are seen to not be doing enough, public trust will melt away. The Government has committed itself to increasing the prosecution rate for rape allegations – this will be a key watermark of confidence. There are clear systemic failings within the police. A fearless approach to reform needs to be adopted by Ms Dick and ministers – if the Met needs to be shaken to its core, so be it.
Image: UK in Holy See via Creative Commons.