It is no surprise that the front pages today are filled with the horrific details of the Metropolitan Police officer who pleaded guilty to rape and sexual offences yesterday. The officer was expected to be dismissed this morning, which sounds late given what has happened but is part of a procedure that has to be followed. This is the latest in a series of crises to hit policing, and in particular the Metropolitan Police. So what happens next and what about confidence in the police service?
After more than twenty years working in policing when I see these headlines I do spare a thought for the many thousands of hard working police officers who are doing their best, putting themselves at risk, and are battling to provide a service despite budgetary pressures. But that said, there is clearly much that needs to be done both in the way policing operates and how it communicates with people.
The pandemic increased one of the problems that policing was experiencing. The saying was always ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’, but during lockdown the distance between the two started to grow. As with many institutions the restrictions and roles that were required during the pandemic impacted on how people interact with them. The ways of working that had to be put in place have become the norm. People have even fewer opportunities to interact with the police and this is not helpful when trying to overcome the impact of stories of misconduct and criminality in the ranks.
More than a decade ago I remember having conversations about the problems of officers abusing the power that they had. It is disappointing that many years on and despite work that was put in place this is still a problem. There is no easy answer but it has to start with the recruitment. Who is recruited to the police and how the process works to identify anyone of concern is the starting point.
Police forces also need to open themselves up to scrutiny. They need to show what they are doing, allow people behind the scenes and take things beyond the documentaries and dramas that people refer to. Above all words need to be accompanied by action. And this has to be action that people see happening. It is a huge challenge as those at the top have to ensure they have the support of officers and staff but also must ensure this does not turn into protecting the status quo. Chief Constables have a fixed time in office and this doesn’t help ensure the long term progress in the way organisations operate. So perhaps it is time to review the leadership and the way it operates.
It is a difficult road ahead but the police service has to take action and ensure this is done in an open and transparent way to start rebuilding public confidence.