If anyone was harbouring doubts about the size of the challenge facing the recently appointed Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, the interim report just delivered by Louise Casey should blow them away. Sir Mark took the job knowing that public trust needs to be rebuilt after a series of scandals involving appalling police behaviour. Following the decision by the policing inspectorate to place the force in special measures due to failures including huge gaps in crime recording and a backlog of child abuse referrals, Lady Casey highlights flawed internal disciplinary processes as another cause for concern.
Her review was triggered by the revelation that complaints about Wayne Couzens were not investigated. Couzens, who went on to rape and murder Sarah Everard, was reported on more than one occasion to have indecently exposed himself. Thanks to Lady Casey’s analysis of data going back to 2013, we now know that the decision to overlook allegations of sexual misconduct against Couzens is part of a pattern, not a one-off. In the past nine years, less than 1% of officers accused of at least two breaches of standards have been dismissed, while more than half of all allegations against officers were rejected as “no case to answer”.
Officers accused of domestic abuse, corruption and sexual harassment all appear to have got off lightly. Sir Mark estimates that hundreds of serving officers ought to have been kicked out but were not. One officer received two final written warnings – a sanction that by definition should only be handed out once.
The disproportionately harsh treatment of black and Asian officers by the Met’s internal disciplinary system is the other outstanding finding. Data showing that black officers were 81% more likely to face disciplinary action, while new recruits from ethnic minority backgrounds were more than twice as likely to be fired, are proof that institutional racism operates within the service as well as in its public-facing work. The Met’s record of denial in this area must now be replaced by action. A series of disgraceful incidents including the strip-search of Child Q at her school, and the sharing of images of the murdered women Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, mean that confidence in the police among black and minority ethnic Londoners is at a low ebb.
New investigators are to be recruited. But they will need strong support from the top if they are to succeed in turning things around. The Police Federation must also get behind reform. Loyalty to colleagues should be balanced by a commitment to professional standards and the wider public interest. The instinct to close ranks no matter what must be consigned to the past. Following multiple incidents of grossly offensive social media use, the Met, along with other forces, must get a much firmer grip on these tools and punish their misuse.
The problem is not a few rogue officers. Nor is it the entire force. The Met’s leadership must find ways to support what is good in the service while attacking what is bad. The young, inexperienced officers who currently make up a high proportion of the workforce should be able to learn if they are properly taught.
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