Tackling the Met’s toxicity

The Baroness Casey Review reveals a toxic culture within the Metropolitan Police

How do you rebuild reputation, I asked Matt Young, then corporate affairs director of Lloyds Banking Group, in the wake of the PPI mis-selling scandal. It wasn’t rocket science, he replied. The bank just needed to keep delivering on its promises. Customers needed to know their money was safe and that the products they were offered were appropriate to their needs. And board decisions needed to be taken against the prism of reputation.

Young, now partner at Apella Advisers, estimated it would take a generation to change perceptions. It would be a slow and delicate process, he predicted, and one mistake could wipe out any gains. If a customer’s credit card doesn’t work when they’ve got a trolley heaving with goodies, and have queued for an hour to reach the checkout, it’s back to square one.

Today, Young concedes he over-estimated the time it would take. Lloyds Banking Group has bounced back. It is no longer government-owned, and official customer satisfaction surveys demonstrate Lloyds (and its subsidiaries) are performing well, albeit lagging challengers such as Monzo and Starling.

But Lloyds had a (not so secret) weapon. It had 60,000 staff, the majority of whom were customer-facing, who, while bruised by the media onslaught, wanted to serve their communities. And, as companies continually claim, their people are their greatest assets. They are its advocates.

The Metropolitan Police is not so lucky. The Baroness Casey Review has uncovered a culture of institutional racism, homophobia, and misogyny; 12 per cent of female officers claim they have been harassed or attacked at work while one in four has been bullied. There are heart breaking examples of officers being mocked, or worse, for their race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.

This culture of discrimination, the report says, ‘takes many forms… but is felt most acutely by those who cannot hide their differences from the White male norm’.

It all seems a far cry from the force’s stated values of ‘professionalism, integrity, courage and compassion’

There are 43,000 serving officers, but just 500 are members of the Met LGBT+ association, which sounds a significant under-representation. It’s hardly surprising: 35 per cent of LGBT+ respondents told the Review they are bullied at least once or twice a week. So much for dancing at Pride or wearing rainbow badges.

Just imagine being a young, female police officer sent to investigate an alleged sexual assault, accompanied by an older colleague whom you know to be misogynistic and sceptical of such claims. Or a young Black officer subjected to daily abuse in the workplace being asked by friends with ethnic backgrounds whether they should consider joining the force.

And also knowing that if you raised such concerns internally, little would be done. Between 55 and 60 per cent of misconduct allegations ended in ‘no case to answer’ – following an investigation which took, on average, 400 days. In many cases, ‘problematic’ officers were simply moved to another team, effectively spreading their toxicity.

It all seems a far cry from the force’s stated values of ‘professionalism, integrity, courage and compassion’, underpinned as they are by a code of ethics, which, in a stunning example of irony, it admits that simply having them ‘is not enough to reduce unprofessional behaviour – it needs to be talked about as an everyday business consideration’.

It’s a classic example of words failing to match actions. Indeed, the Review cites an internal communications campaign, Not In My Met, launched to reinforce the standards of behaviour expected within the force. Officers signed up simply as a box ticking exercise, while the actual advice delivered in these meetings was less about speaking up and more about deleting incriminating WhatsApp and Facebook messages.

Today, just half the public have faith in the institution. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s that high. Unless it relates to a major crisis or accident, or a very public act of heroism, few people talk about the successes of the force. Crime in London is rising. The Mayor blames the cost of living crisis. I disagree. I think criminals are complacent; they do not expect to get caught.

The last officer to investigate a burglary (the fourth) at my home promised to make it a priority. The next day I received a letter: my case had been closed. I was offered victim support. I suspect my reaction was not unusual: frustration.

Today, just half the public have faith in the institution

Londoners now simply treat the force as a repository of crime numbers, for the requisite insurance claims, rather than expect any action. For many, the review’s findings come as no surprise. Those customer interactions that helped rebuild Lloyds Bank’s reputation are, in the Met’s case, often confrontational or racially motivated, sowing seeds of discontent within various communities.

In 2017, trust in the Metropolitan Police stood at 67 per cent. In any other organisation, such a rapid deterioration in a relatively short period would spark alarm bells. Instead, it took two high profile prosecutions (and convictions) of serving officers for murder and multiple rapes to prompt this review.

As ever, most police officers – who, after all, joined the force because they wanted to serve the public – are good and decent, but it is that minority of White male, old style coppers – the ‘baddies’ in the TV detective series – that are the issue. Many, the review reveals, are in senior positions.

While Young may have over-estimated the time taken to rebuild Lloyds’s reputation, it could well take a generation to restore that of the Met Police. Whether it is granted that is another matter. One final point: the banking community really took action to change its culture when the regulator was granted the ability to financially penalise those in charge, whether that was overruling bonuses or clawing back payments which, in retrospect, were deemed inappropriate. It’s just a thought.