Policing by consent has been the cornerstone of the British police since the 1800s. This critical concept established the idea that the role of a police officer was to work for, rather than against, communities. This was radical at the time. Historically, city guards primary role was to enforce order. Sir Robert Peel flipped this on it’s head. The police were there to serve the public, equally and without fear or favour. But a recent slew of headlines about Met Police misconduct (such as Partygate and Child Q) is killing this once sacred idea.
For policing by consent to work, the Police must enforce the law equally on everyone. In my mind, there are three tests they must pass. First, they must enforce the law as rigorously on the powerful as they do on the weak. Second, they must not target specific groups unfairly. Finally, they must have the confidence of the public at large. If any of these principles falters, the entire foundations of our society is at risk.
So how are the police doing?
Strike 1: Failure to enforce the law on the powerful
A few weeks ago we delved into the Partygate scandal, after Jacob Rees-Mogg described it as “fluff”. There is a lot about this scandal that is outrageous, but for me the prize goes to the way the Met Police have handled it.
To recap what actually happened, police were present at the scene whilst at least 17 parties took place. They routinely ignored this. They then opted not to investigate for about a month. When they did finally choose to investigate, it prevented Sue Gray from releasing a damning report. It quite literally saved the Prime Ministers career.
After months of a lacklustre, stalled investigation they finally decided to… issue just 20 fines. Worse still, against all published guidance, these fines were for just £50 each. This is from the same police force that had zealously enforced lockdown laws for months. They even bragged about arrests on social media.
Elsewhere in the country, students who had “organised” far smaller parties than this were fined £10,000 each. The fact that every senior member of government has seemingly escaped and junior members have been hit with law-defyingly small fines is a travesty.
Based on this case alone, it is clear that the Met do not enforce the law equally on the powerful. In fact worse. In this case, they have actively protected the Prime Minister.
Strike 2: Discriminatory behaviour within the police force
What’s worse than failing to prosecute the powerful? Targeting the innocent. Despite decades of efforts to remove institutional discrimination, the Met has hardly made a dent. One look at stop and search figures shows that a black person is 4x more likely to be stopped than a white person. But a statistic doesn’t do justice to the real impact this can have on people and communities.
Stories like the Child Q scandal rarely make it into the public eye. When they do, they are treated as “one offs”. They are the result of “a few bad apples”. But the full phrase is “a few bad apples spoils the bunch”. This type of injustice is ingrained at every level of the police force. It happens all too often and when it is exposed the response is weak. To date, all of the officers involved in the Child Q scandal are still working or the Met Police. Misconduct procedures are slow and all too often result in no further action.
Strike 3: Complete loss of trust from the British public
As a result of the above abject failings, public trust is at an all time low. A YouGov poll late last year showed that the majority of people do not trust the Metropolitan police. Worse, they do not trust the Met to fix the systemic, institutional failings. This complete failure of accountability was most on display when Cressida Dick stepped down. In an astonishing lack of self-awareness, the Police Federation declared it had “no faith” in Sadiq Khan after he rightly chastised Cressida Dick.
Criticising a democratically elected Mayor for holding a Commissioner to account for repeatedly failing to deal with systemic issues is ridiculous. To do this at a time when the Met have completely lost the public’s trust is an outrage. It smacks of an institution that is used to doing whatever it wants without fear of repercussions.
The new Met Police Commissioner needs to do something drastic before it’s too late
The Met does not yet have a new chief, but whoever is picked needs to do something radical. Dividing lines between the police and the public are becoming increasingly entrenched. Police culture needs to change. Closing rank needs to be dealt with as severely as it would in the private sector. Corruption needs to be torn out at the root and a zero tolerance approach to institutional incompetence is sorely needed. “Bureaucracy” cannot be an excuse for wholesale miscarriages of justice. But with a candidate pool largely drawn from the Met itself, I am not holding out much hope.