A leadership void has left the Met to rot

March 21, 2023

Two years of horrifying headlines mean the force is unable to recruit the police officers it needs. Change must come from the top

The verdict on the Met is in and it makes for grim reading. Following a year-long investigation Baroness Casey has found a toxic culture, an inadequate regime for tackling misconduct and a breath-taking lack of leadership at all levels. Having spent the last two years watching the seemingly endless parade of police officers sent to prison this comes as a surprise to no one. And yet with every page the report still manages to be shocking.

Sir Mark Rowley is now six months into his term as Met Commissioner. There can be no doubt of his personal determination to sort the force out. But it is taking too long. Sir Mark had four years outside the Met to think about what had to happen. He had six months between the fall of his predecessor and the start of his term of office to put a plan together. Policy Exchange published “Policing Can Win” making recommendations on the changes needed eight months ago. Where are the signs that anything is practically changing?

In a statement of the devastatingly obvious the misconduct regime, governed by statutory regulations, is not fit for purpose. Yet two years on from PC Wayne Couzens being charged with the murder of Sarah Everard and 18 months on from the arrest of PC David Carrick for a campaign of violent and sexual offences we continue to await the results of the Home Office’s review of the law on police misconduct procedures. Given what’s happened over the last two years it is difficult to conceive of what it will take for the Home Secretary to actually grip this issue and resolve it without yet further delay.

Far too many Londoners feel that their streets have been abandoned by the Met. The public want to see the heroes of policing on foot patrol in their neighbourhoods. They want to see the gangs who deal drugs on our street corners taken apart. They want to see the burglars, robbers and violent thugs that terrorise their communities arrested, put before the courts and thrown in prison. While the shambolic state of the wider criminal justice system is beyond his control, taking back the streets must be the Commissioner’s priority above everything else.

There comes a point when an organisation has had such a relentless kicking that it is simply unable to get off the canvas. With the Met, we are now perilously close to that situation. Two years of horrifying headlines mean the force is unable to recruit the number of police officers it needs. The endless criticism is causing more officers to resign. And while there are activists who may welcome it, the very real risk of the Met being unable to undertake its most basic functions should cause any sane person to be deeply concerned.

No doubt the Commissioner’s defence would be that his first month was consumed by the death of the monarch, and that the Met is an enormous oil tanker which will take far longer than a mere six months to turn round. But the public are angry and desperate to see things change. The crisis of trust in policing, particularly women’s trust in the Met, transcends the traditional political divides of Left and Right. Londoners, and indeed the police officers of the Met themselves, need to see the practical difference Sir Mark’s leadership is making.

The Commissioner has some strong senior police officers on his team, including the formidable ex-head of the National Crime Agency Dame Lynne Owens as his deputy. But his back office still needs a lot of work. As any football fan will tell you, there is little point in having your star striker on the pitch if your defenders keep scoring own goals.

The Met’s entire recruitment, training and leadership development system needs new thinking and new leadership. Current plans for a reheated version of what has gone before are thoroughly inadequate; only a total overhaul will do. There is little sign this is truly understood inside the Met and no sign whatsoever that an overhaul has started with any sense of urgency.

The Met urgently needs to rebuild. If the force is to have any chance, it will need to prevent the activists and politicians who leap on every bandwagon from smashing a metaphorical wrecking ball through the front door of New Scotland Yard at every possible opportunity. The only way that is going to happen is if Sir Mark shows the law-abiding public the practical difference his leadership is making – inside the Met and on our streets. How much longer must we wait?

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