A note to the new Met police commissioner: protect the public, not just your officers | Shabnam Chaudhri

There is a toxic culture within the force and it needs ‘tough love’ from Mark Rowley. The scandals must stop

• Shabnam Chaudhri is a former detective superintendent

As a former senior police officer with more than 30 years’ service working on the frontline and ending my career at the rank of detective superintendent, I know only too well how challenging policing can be – not least for a new commissioner of the Metropolitan police. On Monday, Mark Rowley takes over Britain’s biggest force, and with it the toughest challenge of all: to restore trust and confidence in an organisation whose public standing is at rock bottom.

Rowley’s predecessor, Cressida Dick, resigned in February after the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made clear he had lost confidence in her leadership. It’s easy to see why: on her watch, the Met was plagued by a catalogue of scandals. The murder of Sarah Everard last March by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens – and the notorious handling of a vigil on Clapham Common – ignited intense feelings of anger and disgust. While an independent review found the Met acted appropriately at the vigil, it should have read the situation better. It missed a vital opportunity to protect and restore trust with the women and girls who felt betrayed that night.

Or consider the stop and search of the Team GB athlete Bianca Williams and her partner, Ricardo dos Santos. Regardless of whether the stop was justified or not, the young mother – with her child of three months – begged officers not to drag her out of the car, as seen in video footage shared by Williams on social media. And yet Dick openly supported the actions of her officers.

Or what about the initial refusal to investigate Partygate? Or when a review into the investigation of the murder of the private investigator Daniel Morgan, found dead in the pub car park, with an axe embedded in his head, concluded in March that the force’s ability to tackle corruption was “fundamentally flawed”? The persistent defending of the indefensible at the highest level has had a ripple effect on policing, implying a blanket authority for rank-and-file officers to behave as they please, knowing they have the backing of leaders. All this does is cement the toxic culture that all officers know exists across policing.

The strip-search in 2020 of Child Q, and the discovery that officers in a WhatsApp group with Couzens were sharing racist and sexist messages, were perhaps the last straw. In June the Metropolitan police was, for the first time in its history, tipped into an enhanced stage of monitoring by the state, known as “special measures” or the “engage” stage. That formally acknowledged what so many who were entitled to better support and to justice have long known, the Met has fallen below acceptable standards and requires increased scrutiny to provide support and improvements.

In my own policing career, I have seen how easily a toxic culture can embed itself into an organisation, how racist, sexist and misogynistic behaviours at all ranks can be disguised and downplayed as “banter”. Yet even I could not have prepared myself for the shocking actions of the two Met police officers who took images at the murder scene of victims Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, so arrogant that they felt comfortable in their own skin to do this.

Rowley steps into the job this week with all this and more in front of him. His first day on the job will involve the preparation and planning of the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, expected to take place at Westminster Abbey. There can be no greater honour on a commissioner’s first day. But then it will be to business. He must now climb a mountain to get back to the basics of policing – effectively investigating crimes and bringing offenders to justice – let alone rebuild the trust of the public.

We know Rowley must have a plan: in the dying days of her stewardship of the home office, Priti Patel, demanded the incoming commissioner immediately deliver his first 100-day plan to “renew policing by consent – more trust, less crime, high standards”, adding: “It is absolutely vital that trust and confidence is restored.” The development of a detailed plan may well have formed part of the process for appointing a new commissioner, and secured his appointment.

So, what must change? It begins with dishing out some tough love. This means no longer defending the indefensible, policing on behalf of the public, not the so-called police family. I know many officers will not welcome this, but he must accept the labels that, years after the Macpherson inquiry first judged the Met police “institutionally racist”, still haunt Scotland Yard. If his fellow leaders cannot accept a new reality, he must find a new set of fellow leaders. After Chris Kaba was shot dead by officers in Streatham, south London, a search of the scene had found no gun linked to the 24-year-old. His family has accused the Met of being institutionally racist and is seeking accountability from the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

This is a case that matters. It resonates. And it must be tackled before the Met can truly press ahead with the important job of protecting the public. If Rowley doesn’t get his house in order, he will never win the public’s hearts and minds, and isn’t that what policing by consent means?

  • Shabnam Chaudhri is a former detective superintendent

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com


Shabnam Chaudhri

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