Rape convictions are at an all-time low, public trust in the police has collapsed and the search is on to replace Cressida Dick at the head of the country’s largest force.
Various names have been put forward, all of them senior police officers with years of experience, but it is hard to see any of them as the answer to systemic problems at the Met. Not just the Met, either: the problem with the police in this country is an institutionalised misogyny that allows officers with appalling attitudes to women to keep their jobs.
Officers are said to have failed to carry out the most basic inquiries
PC Wayne Couzens was known as “the rapist” by colleagues and accused of indecent exposure before he raped and murdered Sarah Everard. Two other Met officers are serving prison sentences for sharing photographs of two murdered sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, in a WhatsApp group. An investigation into Charing Cross police station in central London uncovered a culture of misogyny, racism, homophobia and bullying.
These are just the most notorious examples, but hundreds of unnamed Met officers have been accused of domestic violence, up to and including rape.
The common themes are all too obvious: hatred and contempt for women, combined with a sense of impunity so entrenched that offending officers don’t even hide what they’re doing. It points to failures across the board, from recruitment to training, supervision and discipline. It cannot possibly be the case that officers who habitually disparage women and make rape jokes are able to carry out effective investigations in rape cases.
But who is making the connection? Certainly not the unlamented Cressida Dick, who talked about having an occasional “bad ‘un” on the force on the very day Couzens pleaded guilty. Not Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, either. Hill this week acknowledged ‘a crisis of public trust’ over the way the criminal justice system deals with rape and sexual assaults.
Only 1.3 per cent of the 63,136 rapes recorded by police in the twelve months to September led to a suspect being charged, but Hill is still talking about “excellent police teams in London and around the country”. He told Radio 4’s Today programme that misogyny does exist in the police but affects only a minority of officers.
How, I wonder, does he square that with the verdict of the watchdog’s report on the incidents at Charing Cross, which it described as “not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few bad apples”? Or the leaked conclusions of Operation Soteria, an inquiry funded by the Home Office that has reportedly found systemic failings in the Met’s handling of rape and sexual assault cases.
The answer cannot lie in appointing another one of the boys
Officers are said to have failed to carry out the most basic inquiries, such as checks on men accused of sexual offences to see if they have a criminal history; they are also accused of not monitoring known sex offenders adequately. The inquiry raised concerns about the number of Met officers who wrongly believe many allegations of rape are false.
I draw a direct line between a police culture that tolerates “banter” about rape and the appallingly low number of rape prosecutions. I see a direct link between sympathetic attitudes to suspects and the failure to carry out rigorous investigations into rape allegations.
Why should any woman have confidence in a police force where an officer told a female colleague, “I would happily rape you”? Where another officer was known as “mcrapey rapeperson” because he had a reputation for harassing women? (Both of these examples are from the watchdog’s investigation into Charing Cross.)
What happens when you tolerate a culture of institutionalised misogyny within police forces is evident in the statistics. It leads to a fatal confusion of roles, where women who report serious sexual offences find themselves being investigated more thoroughly than alleged perpetrators.
Hill says that prosecutors are now taking an “offender-centric” approach, concentrating on “what the offender did before, during and after the offence”. But the fact remains that police officers from the same misogynistic culture will still be carrying out rape investigations.
Following Dick’s resignation, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said that the problems are far broader than one individual. She is right: two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales don’t have a specialist rape and sexual offences unit, and the government has not followed through on a recommendation to give violence against women the same priority as terrorism.
Too many forces have developed a taste for performative gestures, so much so that Police Scotland has adopted a policy (now being reviewed) of allowing male rapists who “identify” as women to be recorded as female.
But Dick’s departure could nevertheless be a turning point. When the Met is failing so badly, not just on violence against women, but on metrics such as teenage homicides, there is little point in selecting the next Commissioner from the same stable. Other potential candidates come from forces with equally poor records, such as Greater Manchester, which was put in special measures fifteen months ago after failing to record a fifth of all crimes.
What is needed is someone who knows the criminal justice system, but isn’t invested in a broken model of policing. That certainly doesn’t apply to Dick, whose blind loyalty to her officers is one of the reasons why her force is engulfed in scandal.
A culture as badly askew as the Met’s cannot be cleaned up by another insider, which is why the Home Secretary needs to look outside the force. Maybe the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, would be willing to do it. But if institutional misogyny within the Met is the problem, the answer cannot lie in appointing another one of the boys.
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