As soon as I saw the headlines about David Carrick – the Metropolitan Police officer who has just admitted to 49 charges which, by adding up the multiple incident counts, relate to more than 80 sexual offences, including 48 rapes – I thought of Maya Angelou’s advice: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
The details are harrowing, even to those of us who thought we were inured to shock when it comes to revelations involving the Metropolitan Police Force. Carrick, 48, joined the Met in 2001 and spent the next 20 years committing a string of crimes that make him one of the UK’s prolific sexual offenders. The incidents he has admitted to involve 12 different women and include rape, sexual assault, coercive control and false imprisonment. In some cases, he locked his victims in a downstairs cupboard that was, according to one detective, smaller than a dog crate. He used his police warrant card to get his victims to trust him.
That’s not even the really chilling bit, though. The really chilling bit is that none of this should have been a surprise. Carrick showed the people he knew – including his employers – who he was before he even became a police officer. Prior to joining the Met he had been under criminal investigation for malicious communications and burglary. They let him in anyway. He was accused of assault against a former partner. Nothing was done. He continued to rape and assault women, and was promoted to the Met’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command which empowered him to carry a firearm. (Followers of Met Police scandals take note: this is the same armed unit that Wayne Couzens, who raped and murdered Sarah Everard, belonged to.) There were complaints – 14 in all – about him from members of the public and allegations of domestic violence. They were ignored. He was nicknamed “Bastard Dave” by colleagues (as Couzens was nicknamed “the rapist”). Did they assume it was just banter? He was not re-vetted for 16 years, and when he finally was, nothing was done.
Even when he was arrested by Hertfordshire Police in July 2021 for rape, the Met did not suspend him, instead placing him on restricted duties. He wasn’t charged until October 2021, for the rape of a different woman. You might well ask: how was such an abhorrent individual ever allowed to join the police? The Met’s assistant commissioner, Barbara Gray, has said she “would not expect anyone with his pattern of behaviour to be in the police service today”. I imagine many people feel the same way.
Except, examine the story a little closer and it becomes clear that we’re looking at this the wrong way around. Carrick did not commit these crimes in spite of being a Met Police officer. He was part of a force that enabled him to commit these crimes: by handing him a warrant card and a firearm, by ignoring complaints, by nurturing a toxic working culture that allowed, if not endorsed, the kinds of attitudes that lead to misogynistic violence.
The political scientist Brian Klaas, who has made his career studying murderous dictators and power-seeking psychopaths, writes a lot about police forces in his book Corruptible (2022). He points out that, if you want police forces that aren’t prone to corruption and violence, you have to look at who is applying for the job – and why. If your recruitment pool is so shallow you’re forced to accept anyone who wants to join, you’ll get predictably horrific results: at one time in the remote town of Stebbins, Alaska, every police officer had a conviction for domestic violence. With UK police forces struggling to recruit officers in the numbers required, in part as a result of pay stagnation, the risks to the integrity of British law enforcement are clear. So is the incentive to turn a blind eye to obvious warning signs thrown up by existing officers. Bad behaviour is overlooked. Perpetrators learn what they can get away with.
Which brings us to the other problem Klaas highlights: power-hungry individuals are drawn to positions that give them power and enable them to abuse it. A man predisposed to raping and harming women will seek a job in an organisation that provides him the opportunity to do so. If that organisation ignores the blinking red lights and lets such men continue with virtual impunity, it will become a magnet for abusers. And that seems to be what the Met has become.
How else do you explain the fact that Wayne Couzens kept his job long enough to kill Sarah Everard even after complaints of indecent exposure had been made against him? Or the fact that he was in a WhatsApp group with other officers who shared messages so grossly offensive – messages full of racism and misogyny, where they joked about raping female colleagues and assaulting victims they were sent to help – two men have been convicted? Or the hundreds of allegations of domestic violence made against Met officers in the three years up to autumn 2021, which led to just nine dismissals? The revelations keep coming. This isn’t a few “bad apples”; it’s a culture of rampant misogyny, and such cultures naturally attract and embolden rampant misogynists.
In the wake of too many scandals to count, the new Met commissioner Mark Rowley, promised to be “ruthless” in rooting out this kind of toxic bigotry. But to do that requires an acceptance of just how big a role culture plays. It doesn’t seem like that acceptance has sunk in yet. Indeed, there has been hostility from the Met at the idea the force was in any way to blame for Carrick’s two decades of crime. But Barbara Gray is wrong: this is exactly the kind of individual we should expect to find in the Met – because the Met not only hands to its officers power that can so easily be abused, but has demonstrated again and again that those who do abuse it will still be able to flourish. Carrick recognised that. Couzens recognised that. And among the Met’s 34,000 police officers, hidden in plain sight amid their decent and dedicated colleagues, we can be sure there are many others who recognise it too and continue to take advantage of it. At least a thousand are serving despite accusations of sexual or domestic abuse. The Met has shown us what it is. Now we need to believe it.
[See also: The Metropolitan Police is a danger to women]
This article appears in the 18 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, How to fix Britain’s public health crisis