Blog Post

Where have the Metropolitan Police gone wrong? How do we fix this?

Jeeshan Choudhury shares insights from an expert discussion on how to address London’s current policing crisis.

This month, we hosted a roundtable discussion on the current turmoil surrounding the Metropolitan Police, featuring former police officers alongside experts from local government, academia, and third sector organisations.

Our conversation revealed a range of issues the Met need to address if they intend to regain the trust of Londoners after an extended period of scandal.

The experts focused on key three areas: communication, vetting, and representation.

Issues with communication and owning the problem

Baroness Louise Casey’s interim report on misconduct within the Metropolitan Police revealed pervasive attitudes of misogyny and racism amongst officers, and a lack of accountability for offenders within the force.

The Met’s new Commissioner Mark Rowley has also made clear that although he would like to address the more than 1600 cases of alleged sexual offence or domestic violence against his officers as quickly as possible, he feels he lacks the power to do so.

But can the Metropolitan Police be trusted to handle their latest issues by themselves and emerge as a modern institution fit to serve Londoners? As one of our roundtable participants pointed out, police reform in the UK is very rarely an internal affair.

The Macpherson Report’s recommendations for the Met following the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1997 demonstrated the need for external intervention from policymakers to secure meaningful change after a prominent scandal.

A former police officer present in our discussion revealed the findings of the Macpherson Report were “laughed at” by those in the Met at the time, who did not take the damning description of being deemed “institutionally racist” seriously.

This refusal to acknowledge labels which point to widespread issues is not confined to the past. In a recent meeting with the Greater London Authority, Mark Rowley condemned systemic racism as an ill present within society at large, but refused to single out his own institution as a contributor to the problem.

As the saying goes, understanding your problem is half of the solution. For marginalised Londoners who have seen news stories about police officers involved in shocking abuses of power, the fundamental refusal of the Metropolitan Police to own up to their institutional failures only signifies a lack of willingness to tackle them.

The Met’s lack of vetting

How have toxic attitudes been able to thrive within the Met relatively unchallenged? Our experts argued that a lack of proper vetting for new officers is part of the explanation.

Police recruitment is often based on political pressures. Spending cuts during Britain’s austerity years made it harder for the Met to tackle crime due to lack of financial resources. The public outcry in response to this eventually led to a rush for extra recruitment, to deal with the issue of understaffing.

Visible police presence is key to promoting reassurance about safety amongst the public. But when the push for increased police numbers comes at the expense of proper background checks and criteria, the end result can mean new recruits lack proper training, experience or life skills.

At our roundtable, an example was given of a 17 year old officer who had been recruited without any in-person interviews, training or meetings during the pandemic.

Do the Met’s officers represent Londoners?

Our experts were unconvinced that increasing the numbers of police on London’s streets would be enough to resolve the general policing crisis. A change in who polices the capital, and how, is also needed.

Given that the capital is an incredibly diverse city and the median age of Londoners is far lower than other areas of the country, expectations for how citizens expect to be policed will be different compared to elsewhere in the UK.

It is crucial that the Met’s strategy for re-connecting with Londoners recognises the need to ensure the capital’s police are representative of its many communities.

If not, officers will rely on the same outdated views that shattered the trust of many marginalised Londoners in the first place. The Child Q scandal, where a black schoolgirl was strip-searched at her school by an officer who wrongly suspected her of carrying cannabis, is under investigation as an example of ethnic stereotypes being perpetuated within policing tactics.

Finding solutions

Identifying where the Met have gone wrong at a time of seemingly endless scandal is relatively straightforward, but coming up with solutions is harder.

We asked every expert at our roundtable to name the single most important change they thought the Met could make to improve policing in London. They said:

  • More specialist training for officers on conflict de-escalation and sexism.
  • Increased focus on community policing to strengthen local neighbourhood connections between officers and residents.
  • Highly public pledges from the Met’s leadership that could be used as a benchmark for assessing progress on key issues such as crime reduction.

What ties all of these suggestions together is a focus on addressing the three key areas where the Met have fallen behind. To be a better police force, they must become more representative, more in tune with the mood of the public, and more accountable in their roles as London’s guardians.

Jeeshan Choudhury is Senior Communications Officer at Centre for London. Read more from him here.