London party

London’s struggling Metropolitan Police Service seeks new chief

LONDON — The London Police Department was already dealing with a crisis of confidence amid allegations of misogyny, racism and intimidation when it became embroiled in political drama. Last month he launched an investigation into parties in Downing Street during the lockdown which could determine the political fate of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The last thing the ministry needed was more uncertainty. Then its leader, Cressida Dick, resigned under intense pressure.

“This comes at the most terrible time for the organisation,” said Zoë Billingham, a former inspector with an independent police monitoring group in Britain, referring to the force, the Metropolitan Police Service, and the Mrs. Dick’s resignation last week. “And he is investigating the Prime Minister for a potential crime. You almost can’t imagine a worse situation.

Ms Dick’s resignation further exposed the difficult political moment the London Police Service finds itself in as it also comes under heavy pressure to tackle an internal culture which a report from last month said was in prey to sexism and racism.

The force’s ability to solve these problems now appears to be caught in the middle of a political fight between two powerful and ambitious figures from opposing parties.

On one side is Priti Patel, the Conservative Home Secretary, who oversees policing nationwide and has long backed Ms Dick, backing her overhaul plan. On the other, Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and member of the opposition Labor Party, who pressured Ms Dick to resign, making it clear he no longer had faith in her leadership.

Calls for Ms Dick’s resignation began early last year after the abduction, rape and murder of 33-year-old Londoner Sarah Everard by a police officer. The killing fueled a national conversation about policing issues, and late last year the government announced an investigation into the force.

Ms Billingham said a report from the official police watchdog two weeks ago which revealed deeply disturbing messages between officers at a central London police station was the latest tipping point in a long series of problems that had eroded public confidence in the force.

The report detailed racism and xenophobia, with messages exchanged between officers mocking the Black Lives Matter movement and non-Christian religions, and containing deeply misogynistic rape comments, homophobic comments and slurs towards women. People with Disabilities. Nine of those involved are still police officers and two were promoted in the years since the messages were sent.

“You can’t imagine this being a conversation in any area of ​​life, let alone the police,” Ms Billingham said. “Homophobia, racism and misogyny. What I found really disturbing was the glorification of domestic violence – it was simply unforgivable.

Mr Khan had pressured Ms Dick to resign soon after the revelations.

Now the process begins to appoint Ms. Dick’s replacement. The Commissioner is technically appointed by the Queen, but she will accept a recommendation from Ms Patel, the Home Secretary.

But as the post of commissioner is both a municipal and a national role – the Metropolitan Police Service oversees counter-terrorism policing and has other national functions – Ms Patel is legally bound to take into account the views of the mayor of London.

A Home Office spokesman said in a statement: ‘The Home Secretary is committed to selecting the right chief for the country’s largest police force, which will focus on reducing the violence in the city, fighting the abuse of women and girls, ridding our streets of drugs, knives and weapons, saving lives and protecting the public from those who want to harm them.

Ms Patel thanked Ms Dick for her service, pointing to the fact that she was the first woman to lead the force, but acknowledging that “police culture, conduct, attitudes and behaviors have all been subject to scrutiny. ‘rightly scrutiny’. The new leader “must address these institutional issues that have shamed elements of policing,” she added.

But Ms Patel’s priorities for the new commissioner may clash with those of Mr Khan, the Mayor of London, who has taken a tougher stance, pointing to ‘deep cultural issues’ within the police force in the city. city.

The opposition Labor Party has been highly critical of Ms Patel. Yvette Cooper, the opposition MP responsible for policing, said in a BBC interview that the Home Secretary had been ‘quiet’ on the police over the past year, and called on the government to do more to make way for the reforms.

Mr Khan, in an op-ed last weekend in The Observer, said he was ‘deeply concerned at how public confidence in the London police service has been so badly shaken’ by the recent report of the watchdog and “a succession of serious incidents”.

He said he would not support any candidate who did not “demonstrate clearly that he understands the extent of the cultural issues within the Met and the urgency with which they need to be addressed”.

Policing experts agree that it will be essential for the new chief to urgently identify and address the problematic culture.

Ms Billingham said most officers were doing a good job, but it was crucial the new leader accept the scale of the problem and create a culture in which misogyny, racism, homophobia and bullying do not are not tolerated.

Janet Hills, who worked as a Metropolitan Police detective sergeant for three decades and led London’s Federation of Black Officers before becoming president of the National Black Police Association, said a disturbing culture was able to thrive under Ms Dick because there was a disconnect between those in power and lower officers.

‘There is no understanding of what is happening downstairs – these people behaving this way have been allowed to do so without challenge,’ Ms Hills said. “And that’s where for me it fell for this current commissioner.”

Above all, Ms Hills said, Ms Dick treated racism within the force as a problem of the past and failed to address the clear issues that had come to light. Ms Hills pointed to the 1999 Macpherson Report, a groundbreaking investigation into the murder of an 18-year-old black man named Stephen Lawrence in 1993, which branded the handling of the death as institutional racist. She said Ms Dick had acted as if the force had evolved since that time.

“But we didn’t,” Ms. Hills said, “because we never addressed it.”