With the Met’s bicentenary barely a decade away, the next Commissioner – announced recently as Cressida Dick – will play a vital and hugely important role in ensuring that the Met is fighting fit moving forward. Her appointment must be recognised as a pivotal moment for the Met and safety in London – and as a recognition of her talents and capabilities.
There are four key areas the Centre for Public Safety would like to see addressed. They are not the only challenges – but they are critical to the effective and efficient delivery of public safety for all in London. London needs more policing, not less – and regardless of the fiscal context – if these areas are not addressed, then public safety and the professionals who help keep Londoners safe will unnecessarily suffer.
People: It’s the workforce, stupid
The Met’s most valuable asset – bar none – is the quality and goodwill that’s left in the workforce, in particular that portion of the workforce who routinely and reliably go above and beyond the bare minimum. The people who get things done.
It’s just one of the areas that would inevitably have come up in questions from the community and workforce interview panels and the public candidate forum advocated for in the Centre for Public Safety’s recent report The Next Commissioner.
The broader external environment around policing may seem immovable, but Dick, as Commissioner, can and must do something about the internal environment. She should start by – at a minimum – bringing the professionalism of a quality criminal investigation to misconduct investigations.
The Met currently treats criminal suspects – burglars, thieves, rapists and paedophiles – with greater professionalism and respect than they do their own staff. This gross injustice is hugely corrosive to both morale and the culture that exists within the force – it must not be permitted to continue.
Initial recruit training – along with ongoing development – must be overhauled and made fit for purpose. While NYPD recruits enjoy a brand new state-of-the-art facility with a simulated police station, courtrooms, city streets, businesses and even subway station, new officers expected to police London must simulate a vehicle stop using chairs in a classroom.
The shiny new £70 million Peel Centre stands – sadly – as a testament to a lack of focus on high quality training. It doesn’t have a training village, a ‘Hogan’s Alley’ or even a mocked up flat or home. It is little more than an open-plan office building. It pales against the training facilities afforded to officers elsewhere in the world.
With the results of the Met Police Federation’s taser and firearms survey showing overwhelming support for taser and a growing acceptance of the value of police firearms as a force for good, the issue of police safety must be visibly and decisively addressed.
Whether the historical reluctance to provide frontline officers in London with necessary operational equipment – such as a taser or a spit guard – is politicking, a lack of trust in officers or a matter of cost, the issue must be faced head on. Our own forthcoming analysis finds the Met is falling behind other global cities in relation to emergency first aid and officer safety training and equipment.
Failing to set out a clear way forward that demonstrates a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of the workforce will serve only to reinforce negativity in relation to the organisation, the leadership and their attitude to the frontline. Dick’s reputation can be expected to help buy her the time to deliver some quick wins in this area.
Technology: enough of the excuses and gravy train
Many seek to excuse the Met’s technology failures on the basis of the size of the organisation. This must stop. While the Met spent the best part of five years setting up and running a trial of just 700 Apple iPads – the NYPD managed, in a little over two years, to roll out smartphones, loaded with apps, to enable and empower each and every one of their 34,000 officers, helping make New York City safer.
It’s not just New York City that has made great progress on technology. Forces across England and Wales have been making terrific strides – such as Devon and Cornwall, West Yorkshire and Sussex – proving that decent tech, even on much smaller budgets, can be put in the hands of our police officers and staff.
Dick must recommit to avoiding the trap of becoming beholden to service providers that have no incentive or interest in delivering a better service year-on-year. Ensuring a level playing field for smaller providers, including new entrants, is in the public interest and a first step towards ensuring the Met’s technology keeps pace in a rapidly changing world.
The reliance of the Met upon an officer-developed Excel-based anti-social behaviour reporting system proves just how inflexible and unaccommodating the Met’s technology environment has been – and how much passion for service improvement exists within some of the workforce.
As Commissioner, Dick should look to ensure an environment for in-house prototyping and development is created: a ‘Skunk Works’. It would enable innovation and creativity geared towards public safety and crime reduction, drawing upon an abundance of existing talent within the Met and the talents of London – a global city bursting with the tech-savvy and creative.
While representing a significant break from the past, the all-too-rapid turnover of CIO/CTOs in recent years and an over-reliance on expensive contractors – from the very top to the bottom – within the Met’s “Digital Policing” unit has not provided the quantum leap required.
While the likes of Uber utilise microservices and data science to improve the service they provide, the same cannot be said of the current approach to technology within the Met. The outgoing Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has conceded on several occasions that he wishes greater strides had been made in the technology space: Dick can be expected to have her own view, though it would be an error to believe technological progress has been satisfactory.
Crime: giving purpose and holding the justice system accountable
Commissioner Dick is well-placed to re-focus the policing mission on the delivery of public safety. This means recognising the importance and continued development of safeguarding and public protection, but it also means placing real and meaningful emphasis on crime-fighting.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s “total war on crime” rhetoric was well-intentioned and well-received by many, but much of the potential value was lost as plans to drive the philosophy throughout the organisation and across partner agencies and service providers failed to crystallise.
The Centre for Public Safety would welcome a doubling-down on crime-fighting as a key part of the job. It means developing easy-to-use tools to help officers wage war on crime, overhauling many of the existing processes and demonstrably and openly supporting officers who stand up to criminals and put themselves on the line.
It means tearing up absurd rules and policies that prevent or discourage officers from carrying a second pair of handcuffs and it means training and equipping officers to make volume arrests, such as during public disorder – and developing a business process to support it. It also means making the role of a detective appealing again.
Commissioner Dick’s credentials are impressive and – with recent senior experience of working in counter-terrorism and outside of the Met – she is well-placed to understand the value of partner agencies. Dick should use her experience to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service are held accountable for their role in fighting crime, such as in relation to decisions to prosecute and ensuring mitigation does not simply go unchallenged at sentencing.
Rebuilding pride in the scale and professionalism of the Met
Finally, Dick should have a clear plan for rebuilding pride in the organisation. There are quick wins: buying uniform trousers that don’t fall apart at the seams, specifying a ‘Met blue’ and demanding that the shade of blue across uniform items actually matches it, and developing real and meaningful benefits and services for officers and staff.
It’s also about better communicating the crime and policing challenges that the Met’s officers deal with. A good first step would be the daily publication of a redacted version of the daily digest summarising events of the previous 24 hours. The present media diet – rich in photogenic tweets and gross misconduct cases – does not do the Met’s finest justice.
Communities, their elected representatives, and the media have a right to know what all the blue lights on Brixton Hill were about last night. They also should be aware of many of the countless other serious crimes or incidents that police dealt with – but that went unnoticed.
Recruitment and training feed into this area. Ever-shorter initial training that relies upon less and less purpose-built facilities is not something to celebrate, however shiny the website or classroom. The need to overhaul training is obvious, and she should resist any pressures to rush to outsource training.
Dick should also seek to follow the lead of so many other forces around the world in delivering high quality, engaging social media and video content — giving visibility and recognition to those who do the job and who might want to do the job. It means recognising that there is value to resourcing media and communications beyond stonewalling, firefighting or simply reacting to events.
Crucially, we look forward to Dick being unafraid of building a powerful team to turn her vision into a reality. This means a Chief of Staff and team able and willing to penetrate the Stalinist veneers some put forward in defence of the status quo within the Met’s numerous empires and fiefdoms. Only with such a team, carefully selected from across the generations and across and beyond the organisation, can any vision or strategy expect to be delivered in the beast that is the Met. Dick has the reputation and clout to demand such a team – and to empower them to deliver.
The turnaround will require hard work and a decade-long commitment if it is to be successful and lasting. It’s also important to recognise that, even if the financial pressures evaporated overnight, the Met – as an organisation – would still be in need of these changes.
More than anything, Dick must recognise that building workforce trust in the organisation is critical to success. Many – within and beyond policing – have erroneously come to view trust in policing as a zero-sum game, with the police and public in opposition. The current approach to misconduct is predicated upon it. A thousand certain (“beyond reasonable doubt”) good deeds can be undone by the alleged possibility (“on the balance of probabilities”) of a momentary lapse or honest mistake – at least for the rank-and-file.
The awful irony is that it ends up critically undermining policing – encouraging a risk-averse and self-interested culture to develop, in which apathy becomes rational and pro-activity becomes irrational. We see it in the UK – and it can also be seen in the ‘Ferguson effect’ on other side of the Atlantic.
There can be no denying that the Cressida Dick has her work cut out for her – but we, and many others, have the confidence that she can deliver for the Met and for London. ‘More of the same’ is not a viable option, that way lies ruin. Nobody – save those engaged in criminality – should want that.
We look forward to Commissioner Dick outlining a compelling vision that sustains and reaffirms the passion that exists in so many officers and staff. The principles behind Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s ‘Total Policing’ might not be such a bad place to start. As a leader, Commissioner Dick will recognise that a speech, video or blog, however saccharin-sweet, will not be enough. The will and resources must be present to deliver it – and, like so many things in policing and public safety, it shall require a team effort. We look forward to seeing Dick build her team in order to make it happen and wish her – and them – every success.