Yes, Sarah Everard’s murder was appalling. But it’s unforgivable that it is being used to wage war on the Met. It could be the final straw for many officers who put their lives on the line and are sick of the constant criticism.
Priti Patel’s criticism of the Metropolitan Police in this week’s Sunday Times left me appalled. A Home Office source said that the home secretary regarded the commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, and deputy commissioner, Sir Steve House, as ‘tin eared’. Apparently, all the senior police chiefs are the same, and must be sorted out.
Just think about that for a moment. A home secretary with a reputation for bullying staff, and who deceived Theresa May when she was prime minister, is apparently after the top two people in UK policing.
The commissioner, the first female to have held the post – and who happens to be gay – is allegedly lucky to still be in a job. This is someone with a stellar career in policing, an Oxford graduate who has led national counter-terrorism efforts and who was head-hunted for a senior role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But she is apparently not good enough.
Patel believes that the Met, an organisation led by a lesbian, along with the wider police service, has a culture of misogyny. Until recently, two other top posts in policing – heading up the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs’ Council – were held by women. To suggest that three women have presided over a so-called ‘culture of misogyny’ is stupid beyond belief.
It is very easy for any of us to find fault in individual police failings – the mishandled Operation Midland of a few years ago; undercover officers forming sexual relationships and taking infiltration too far; too much tolerance of Extinction Rebellion; a monstrous sexual murderer in the shape of Wayne Couzens.
Set that against the many millions of calls for service: the hundreds of murders solved, thousands of rapes investigated, many terrorists arrested or thwarted. The thousands of vulnerable missing persons found; the hundreds of potential murder or road accident victims given life-preserving first aid; the many, many people rescued from blazing buildings, freezing rivers, car wrecks or violent abusers.
One could say that Cressida Dick has actually done quite well.
Then take into account the difficulties of managing the Met through the worst of Covid. And catching and convicting Sarah Everard’s killer in record time, causing the presiding judge to describe the investigation as the “most impressive” he has seen in 30 years on the bench.
When one thinks this has been achieved with a much-reduced, under-trained and now relatively inexperienced workforce – thanks to government cuts – it feels to me that the Met are unappreciated at best. In my opinion, Cressida Dick has done well, and I say that as someone who regards her as a bit of cold fish who operates in a very different way to me. But I take my hat off to her; she has had a tough lot of challenges.
Sir Steve House also deserves praise. He is a former chief of Police Scotland and chief constable of Strathclyde Police, and has also worked across England in Sussex, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, and the Met. He is regarded as a firm disciplinarian and someone who is prepared to go on the street. Like the commissioner, he is prepared to stand up to politicians and tell them the things that they don’t want to hear, such as how cutting resources makes things worse for the public, or advising them not to interfere in operational matters they know nothing about.
So, what I say next is very important and I say it as someone who has worked in policing for the past 40 years, all across the world. Until recently, I was employed by the United Nations to advise on how to best develop the police service in Afghanistan. I’d previously held the most senior policing position in Kabul for NATO. I did the same for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Iraq.
I have commanded all of West London, been an elected police and crime commissioner and come from a family of nine police officers in the Met. I have bled on the street and suffered broken bones, been kicked unconscious, had knives pulled on me and faced gunmen whilst unarmed. I don’t want accolades for any of it, but I know about the nasty end of policing.
Most importantly, I can read the pulse of police officers – and so I know what they are thinking right now. It’s quite simple, really: the home secretary, mainstream media, activist groups, people who get in our faces at barbecues, Christenings or down the sports club… you all need to stop your negative criticism.
Because we are getting sick of you and your finger-pointing. Every day, we go out there, risking life and limb, our professional reputation and our careers to protect you from bad people.
You cannot make us be nosey and stop and search someone. You cannot make us search diligently for witnesses to a crime. You cannot make us research and plan a carefully conducted interview on a nasty suspect in custody. You cannot even make us arrest anyone if we don’t want to. You can’t make us be compassionate with your old mother when she is burgled, or leap into a freezing river when your drunken son jumps in after a night out.
In fact, you can’t make us look carefully for forensic clues, examine a suspect vehicle carefully to see if it has been wrung, investigate the burglary of your house, or even look carefully in the freezing rain for an elderly relative who has wandered out of a care home.
You cannot make a lone policewoman or man confront a mad man with a samurai sword in your shopping centre. You cannot make us volunteer to be a firearms officer with all the risks a wrongful shooting brings. You can’t make us engage with the Islamic community to try and help de-radicalise a misguided young man who might become a suicide attacker. You cannot make us volunteer to go under cover and infiltrate a far-right group wanting to attack socialist politicians.
You cannot force us to volunteer to undergo public-order training and then stand there facing whatever violent group of demonstrators or drunken football yobs want to throw things at us or fight us.
Virtually everything we do for you requires us to use our initiative, and a discretionary commitment of goodwill. A desire to sacrifice and serve for you. You cannot supervise, force or regulate that. We do it for you because we care. But some of us are, well, starting to give up a bit.
You may be getting the message now; uppity cops are getting sick of being blamed for everything or being abused for just doing our jobs – for you. Yes, Wayne Couzens was a violent, brutal sex predator. Almost anyone who is or was a member of the police was shocked and horrified at what he did in our cloth.
He is one of several violent sex predators who murder annually in the UK. We caught him.
And yes, a few of his moronic ex-Civil Nuclear Constabulary colleagues, now transferred to the Met, had an appalling WhatsApp group. But that doesn’t mean all 130,000 of us or the 50,000 special constables and police civilian staff – your crime scene investigators and call handlers – should be tarred with the same brush.
We have idiots, a few criminals and fools among us. And when we find them, we get rid of them.
On another point, how dare you vilify the top leaders of our job? It simply wouldn’t happen with admirals or generals, top medical consultants, or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps it’s because you think we are just thick old plod. But the truth is many in the force are well-educated, worldly wise and in demand outside of the police.
So, watch out. We are already leaving early in our careers in greater numbers than ever before. The private sector appreciates us and pays much more without the inherent risks of policing. And those we are leaving behind are inexperienced and naive, with very few experienced people to train them. In fact, most of the regional training centres of both detective and leadership excellence have been sold off.
If you don’t wake up and get off the police’s back, you, your family and your business will pay for this in the long term. The next time you need police we might take a long time to come – if we come at all – and when we do, we probably won’t really know what to do half of the time. And as for detectives? Half of them have left already. Most uniformed officers wouldn’t touch the job with a barge pole. Why take the risk of criticism or being fired because you left a stone unturned? That’s why so many investigations go wrong or are unsatisfactory. You get the policing the government will pay for.
If you think I sound angry, you are wrong. But this needs to be said – the public have to get behind our police and stop knee-jerking when the media or a politician tells them to.
I need their services just like you do. There are a lot of nasty brutal people out there who would love to rob, assault, or abuse you and me. So, when people like me tell you the police are close to having had enough, you ought to listen. It’s already bad enough for all of us now; ask anyone you know who has reported a crime recently. Don’t make it worse. Tell yourself that cases like Wayne Couzens’ can happen anywhere, and the police are already doing their best to sort it out. They put him prison, didn’t they?
At the risk of being called a misogynist, man up, grow a pair, and accept that without the police you and your family and me will be in big trouble if ever we really need them in the future.
Policing is not going to get better by politicians kicking the force around in the media or by public enquiries. Many offices have had enough and are ready to leave the war against evil to someone else.
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