In the modern era, every commissioner of the Metropolitan police has come into office promising to cut crime but it turns out almost every commissioner ends up consumed and menaced by issues of legitimacy, such as race.
It has become as true for Cressida Dick as it was for her predecessors Bernard Hogan-Howe, Paul Stephenson, Ian Blair in 2005, and John Stevens.
Paul Condon was in charge from 1993, the year Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racists whom police errors allowed to stay free. He was commissioner long enough to see the Macpherson inquiry in 1999 find the Met institutionally racist for how it failed Stephen and his family.
The majority of every commissioner’s top team in the Met since then believes the grief it gets about race is unfair and resents insinuations or direct accusations of racism.
Into this historical context comes the new race action plan hammered out after months of tense negotiations between the Met and the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Race and legitimacy are enduring issues for Britain’s biggest police force, and for the communities it serves. And they are not just historical grievances, there are very new current ones.
The issues were brought into sharp relief this summer as the shockwaves from George Floyd’s killing by police in the US led to mass protests on British streets. More than 250,000 people demonstrated, a figure that would have been far higher if it had not been during lockdown.
The immediate and enduring flashpoint between policing and communities is stop and search. No one thinks it should be abolished, but a vast amount of people being targeted are innocent. And innocent people do not like being handcuffed, especially not in the street in front of their children, as has happened in London.
The Met during lockdown massively increased stop and search, then cut it back when there was an outcry. The force carried out 43,000 stops in May, compared with 21,000 a year earlier, and 30,608 in April, up from 20,981. Bearing down on violence is the reason the Met gives for its stop and search policies.
As the Home Office pointed out last month, it uses it much more than other forces. Nearly half of all stops in England are carried out by the Met, which covers 12% of the population. In London black people are four times more likely to be stopped than white people, and they feel that is unfair.
Polls independent of the authorities show how bad trust and confidence among black communities have become. Eight out of 10 black Britons and eight out of 10 Bangladeshi Britons fear “police are biased against people from my background and ethnic group”, with 65% of all ethnic minorities agreeing, according to a poll for Hope Not Hate. An earlier poll for ITV that asked if policing had a culture of racism found 59% of minority ethnic respondents saying yes, rising to 77% among black people.
The new action plan revives an idea that the Met should look like the communities it serves. Currently London is 40% ethnic minority, with just over 15% of Met officers coming from ethnic minorities.
After Macpherson’s inquiry, every police force was set the target of having the same number of ethnic minorities in the ranks as it polices. Every one of 43 forces missed, and the target withered away.
The Mayor and Met will hope the plan encourages more confidence in the Met, and is not seen as a way to kick key issues into the long grass. Communities in London have had numerous reports and promises before.