What’s wrong with the police?
March 2023 saw the publication of Baroness Casey’s major review of the Metropolitan Police. It exposes, in the words of a well-qualified journalist who has served in the police, “a hollowed-out institution”. The Met is not one organisation, the commentator writes, “but two, a disjointed and hollowed out institution” which pits central command, senior ranks and ‘elite’ units at the top against local constables and sergeants in Basic Command Units (BCUs, colloquially known as ‘Borough’) at the bottom. “The lowest rungs of the hierarchy are left to fester, while those at the top act like the rules do not apply to them. It is a feudal system that seethes with discontent.…”
The article quotes a female detective superintendent who served with the Met for 30 years. Commenting on the local police, she says “in Borough, officers feel totally undervalued, totally unsupported, totally dumped on. Unlike specialist units which are considered elite, it was a terrible dumping ground where the work was stressful, thankless.”
Baroness Casey’s deep and far-reaching 360-page review was set up primarily to see how it was possible for the nation’s largest police force to accommodate officers who turned out to be vicious criminals and committed horrific sexual offences. Its stated purpose was “To undertake a review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service and make recommendations on the actions required”.
But the review developed into a more deeply forensic analysis: it amounts to a very serious, research-based and far-reaching indictment of the police in London – but also of government cuts to police funding. To quote from one of her conclusions:
“Like other public services, austerity has profoundly affected the Met. In real-terms, the Review has calculated that the Met now has £0.7 billion less than at the start of the previous decade, meaning its budget is 18% smaller. This is enough to employ more than 9,600 extra Police Constables at full cost. It has lost 21% of its civilian staff and two thirds of its Special Constables while the number of Police Community Support Officers has halved. Between 2010 and 2022 it closed 126 police stations. Specialist units and functions have been prioritised, including through ringfenced Government funding.
“Together, this has eroded frontline policing, weakening the strongest day-to-day point of connection with Londoners, as well as impacting the Met’s reactive capabilities, its response levels, and its response to male violence perpetrated against women and children”.
Erosion of local policing resources
As touched on above, one well-recognised side effect of the deterioration of the Met is the neglect of local policing, and the consequent and inevitable resurgence in petty (and sometimes not so petty) crime which often goes unreported because people don’t think the police will be able to do anything. This is probably unfair: our local police do their very best with limited resources and given the priorities they work under. But in many parts of London, including even here in Herne Hill, there seems to be an feeling that people can get away with much more criminal behaviour than they could have done a decade ago; and the criminals are becoming more brazen. Only fundamental reform of the police will change this. Possibly that reform is now being planned under the new Commissioner and in the light of Baroness Casey’s recommendations.