Policing in crisis

October 17, 2022

The state of the markets led to much talk of a run on the pound. The run on the public’s confidence in policing should be of equal concern. Too many streets feel lawless. Robbers act with impunity. Drug dealing is obvious and shrugged off. A lack of faith that the police will apply the law is resulting in have-a-go heroes taking on the protestors that are bringing London to a standstill. Meanwhile, all too often we see officers indulging in activities that should be nothing to do with the police. Only last week, officers in Streatham, south London were handing out trans-flag T-shirts as part of a misguided effort to support Hate Crime Awareness Week.

With fewer than half of Londoners saying that their local police do a good job, the public’s confidence in policing is being thrown away. A recent poll found that the public were “almost twice as likely to agree than disagree that the police are more interested in being woke than solving crimes”.

Last week marked a month since Sir Mark Rowley started his term as Met Commissioner. He has made a good start. He has set out his plan to deliver “less crime, more trust, higher standards”. He has appointed a new leadership team, including as his interim deputy the highly regarded Dame Lynne Owens. He has made commitments to clear the backlog of 13,000 wanted criminals who are wandering London’s streets and for a police officer to attend every home burglary. But, as Sir Mark himself would acknowledge, this is only the beginning. As my recent paper for Policy Exchange made clear, policing can only win if the public believe that the new Commissioner is delivering more than just words.

Central to taking back the streets is the reinvigoration of Neighbourhood Policing Teams. Over the past decade they have been hollowed out. Rebuilding, with officers who know the area they are patrolling and are led by street-smart sergeants, is essential.

To regain the public’s confidence, officers also need to focus on what really matters to the vast majority of Londoners. They want to see the police using every legal and ethical means to hunt down thugs, robbers and drug dealers. Until every single one of them has been put before a court, the Met shouldn’t be spending any of its time on Twitter spats or handing out T-shirts.

Images of protestors climbing on top of police vans outside Downing Street, as officers watch on, make a mockery of the New Scotland Yard brand. Police officers need to be far quicker to move in and make arrests, particularly where protestors are delaying ambulances and fire engines from reaching life-threatening emergencies.

Key to the public’s trust in the force are higher standards of professionalism, competence and leadership. A radical overhaul of the Met’s approach to recruitment, training and leadership development is needed. If any of those responsible for these areas, and therefore many of the Met’s lamentable failings in recent years, are still in post then the gaze of Sir Mark needs to turn, Sauron-like, in their direction.

The difference needs to be obvious. The public need to feel their streets are safe to walk. Robbers and drug dealers need to fear they are going to be caught. Officers need to be confident they have the training and leadership to deliver the policing that Londoners deserve and expect. Sir Mark was the best candidate for the Commissioner’s job. But he only has a short time to get the Met back on track. Given his policing credentials, if he can’t turn the force around questions will need to be asked whether anyone from policing can. If that’s the case, more radical solutions to the Met’s problems will need to be found.

This was originally published in The Telegraph

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