Applications for the role of Met Police Commissioner are now closed and those taking on the role will have to work hard to regain the trust women lost during Cressida Dick’s reign.
The outgoing Commissioner acknowledged this, prior to her departure, saying: “We know a precious bond has been broken and I am determined to rebuild the confidence of all Londoners.”
Regaining this trust will not be easy, but it is vital. Victims of crime must have absolute trust and confidence in those to whom they will tell their story. Less than one in six women already report rape because they fear the police won’t do anything about it.
But the lack of trust runs much deeper than the fear that interacting with the police will lead to inaction: the horrific case of Sarah Everard, raped and murdered by Met police officer Wayne Couzens, has scared women.
While it has always been the police force’s approach to label police crime as the work of “bad apples,” the litany of ignored incidents by a man nicknamed “the rapist” by colleagues speaks of an organization that cares about women’s safety.
Couzens had joined the Met of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary before being assigned to the Department of Parliamentary and Diplomatic Defense (PaDP), but had not undergone a more comprehensive screening nor had he gone through the mandatory two-year probationary period at the Met before joining the PaDP came.
At least three charges of indecent exposure had been brought against him. Radio host Emma B also came forward to say she tried to report Couzens in 2008 after he flashed her in a Greenwich alley, but the police laughed at her.
We now need to know that the police investigation will be stepped up and that behavior like Couzens’s will not be tolerated. Indeed, it wouldn’t be in most workplaces.
Even within Sarah’s case, there are more examples of very disturbing police behavior.
An officer who was part of the search was suspended after sharing an inappropriate image on social media, five officers were investigated for sharing grossly offensive material with Couzens before killing Sarah, and several officers gave character references supporting Couzens during his sentencing hearing.
Several female officers told the press that they felt they were unable to report on the behavior of male colleagues. So another question that must be answered by all Commissioner applicants is how they will eradicate this behavior, rid the Met of this deeply offensive culture, and ensure that anyone reporting actions – including other police personnel – is protected.
When female police officers feel unsafe to report charges to colleagues, it’s hard to see how other women might feel empowered to do so.
Sharing of offensive material seems epidemic by Met police officers. Last December, two Met police officers who took photos of the bodies of murdered sisters of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry and shared the images on WhatsApp groups were sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Meanwhile, officers at Charing Cross Police Station were found to joke about rape and exchange abusive messages on social media.
In April, in response to the IOCP investigation into Charing Cross Police Station, police said they would have zero tolerance for misogyny. But of the 14 officers investigated, nine are still employed, while another works as a contractor in a staff position. Not sure if this sounds like “zero tolerance”.
Talking about organizational cultural change is easy – finding and implementing ways is much more difficult. But women and girls just can’t be safe, when misogyny is allowed to be part of the Met culture.
Like women in the capital, I look forward to the new Commissioner’s plans for fundamental change.
Ellie Reeves is the Shadow Labor Minister for Justice and Member of Parliament for Lewisham West and Penge.