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The new Met Commissioner must be brutally honest about the challenges facing the force

(Image | Alamy)

Caroline Pidgeon

Caroline Pidgeon

5 min read

The new commissioner needs to be mindful that the first job of the Met is to protect the public, not its own reputation.

How many rotten apples does it take until you start looking at the barrel? I am in no doubt that the Metropolitan Police Service has some of the most dedicated officers in the world. Yet, we are seeing more cases than ever of serious misconduct, with officers involved in taking pictures of murder victims; attempting to engage in sexual activity with a child; stealing drug money; and assault and rape. 

I have spent the last 14 years scrutinising the Met and it has changed significantly in that time, but not at the pace of our city. In attitude, approach and culture, the Met is an organisation increasingly stuck in the past and in desperate need of change. As the search for a new commissioner begins, there should be several priorities for whoever takes over the top job.

The Met has also consistently refused to accept wider institutional criticism. I’ve been increasingly alarmed at a police service that seems to have its fingers in its ears – unable to grasp or deal with scandal after scandal that has seen public confidence drop from 69% in June 2017 to just 52% as of September 2021.

We have also had the tragic case of Sarah Everard and the policing of her vigil, the Met’s rejection of the charge of institutional corruption by the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, and their inability to accept that homophobia could have played a part in the handling of the Stephen Port murders. The Met has consistently failed to show a willingness to accept that serious institutional issues exist.

It had become clear that Cressida Dick’s position was untenable, but a change at the top must come with more widespread change - in culture, attitude and approach. There is a culture of defensiveness amongst the Met’s senior leadership. I believe the intention behind this has been to protect the Met and its officers, but has done quite the opposite. 

It is clear the outgoing commissioner had the loyalty and trust of her officers – this is admirable but was perhaps reflective of a commissioner who failed to take a real, in-depth look at the problems facing the organisation she led. The new commissioner needs to be mindful that the first job of the Met is to protect the public, not its own reputation. 

But it’s not just about tackling misconduct. It is also time for wholesale institutional reform. London is a diverse and rapidly changing city and policing needs to keep up with that so that it can tackle crime effectively and ensure the confidence of the public. It is crucial that any new commissioner is highly experienced in policing, but they certainly do not need to be from within the Met, or indeed British policing. An outsider could bring a new perspective and objectivity.

The new commissioner needs to be mindful that the first job of the Met is to protect the public, not its own reputation. 

Given the scale of the institutional challenges in the Met, an experienced international candidate, and one with a strong record in transformative organisational change, should be welcomed. However, finding a candidate with all the necessary requirements - suitable policing experience, a record in organisational change and strong leadership - could prove a challenge. As such, consideration should be given to the idea of appointing a chief executive, who could focus on the organisational failings and cultural change, whilst a new commissioner could focus on operational policing. Such a bold approach could provide the dynamic leadership the Met desperately needs.

The new commissioner must also focus on how trust and confidence can be rebuilt amongst women and Black and minority ethnic Londoners. There is no doubt that a Met that is more open and less defensive will help – but the Met needs to be even bolder in tackling falling trust and confidence. We need a police service that listens to, understands and represents the communities it is serving and can adapt with them. A police service that harbours or allows any form of discrimination or prejudice is not one fit to serve our communities.

The new commissioner must work with Baroness Casey to update the terms of reference for her review so that they specifically look at institutional homophobia, racism and misogyny, which is essential if the review is to be impactful and contribute to rebuilding confidence. 

We also need to see a comprehensive response from the Met to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report which was published over eight months ago. The report did not only suggest the Met suffered from “institutional corruption”, but also raised a catalogue of concerns and recommendations – yet to date no meaningful action has been taken by the Met to address or respond to these.

The new commissioner must be bold, brave and brutally honest about the challenges facing the Met. This is a critical moment for policing in our city and the country. The British tradition of policing by consent is at the heart of this. Unless the Met can acknowledge and properly tackle the issues it faces, then ultimately its legitimacy is under threat, which should worry us all.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM is a Liberal Democrat Member of the London Assembly. She was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority from 2008-12 and has been a member of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee since 2012.

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