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11 February 2022

Cressida Dick wasn’t the one bad apple in the Met

Her departure's only the start - Scotland Yard needs an overhaul.

By Danny Shaw

Cressida Dick was once said to be the “finest police officer of her generation”. The description was applied by one of her predecessors as Metropolitan Police commissioner, Ian Blair, who was forced out by Boris Johnson after he became mayor of London in 2008. Now, 14 years on, Dick has been dispatched in the same way by the man who took over from Johnson, Sadiq Khan.

Like Blair, her principal problem was a failure to read the public mood. Dick, 61, is highly respected in policing and — unusually for a leader in her position — almost universally admired by the officers and staff who work for her; she genuinely cares about them and has made that clear many times. But the police can operate effectively only if they have the consent of the communities they serve. And in the way Dick communicated through the media, and in her plans to deal with a succession of scandals in the Metropolitan Police, she failed to demonstrate a real understanding of their seriousness and impact on trust and confidence in the force. In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, the Met’s advice to women stopped by lone plainclothes officers to “wave a bus down” was the most egregious example, but there are others.

Dick had become “the story”. That is an unhealthy position for any organisation to be in. Her departure will create space for her successor to develop and introduce reforms without unhelpful headlines and personal attacks, but it is only the start. 

First, the Met needs to overhaul its communications strategy, to be more open, to set out its procedures clearly and to engage with people in a less formal way. For instance, its approach to “Partygate” was the right one, in my view, but the shockingly poor explanations it offered caused confusion and left the force open to ridicule. If only the commissioner had outlined from the start the force’s guidelines for retrospective investigations of alleged breaches of coronavirus regulations, rather than belatedly at the end of January, the muddle would have been avoided.  

Second, there must be a commitment to implement all of the recommendations arising from Louise Casey’s review of culture, standards, recruitment and training in the Met. The review must be given all the resources it needs to come up with meaningful and timely proposals. The misogyny, racism, discrimination and bullying exposed in this month’s report on Charing Cross police station was not a one-off; among many brilliant and committed officers, there will sadly be other pockets of disreputable conduct.

And third, there must be an immediate emphasis on more robust supervision of officers. One of the problems is that the Met’s size, with 45,000 officers and staff, makes it challenging to monitor behaviour. A recent restructuring of the force, which grouped 32 boroughs into 12 basic command units, has made that task even harder, with police commanders responsible for larger areas and more officers. As the force’s recruitment drive continues it must surely be time to review the way the force is organised.

The problems won’t disappear when Dick departs; Scotland Yard’s new leader, whoever it is, must embrace the opportunity for lasting change.

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