CW Rape, Sexual Harassment, Misogyny, Murder

This month, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was finally forced to step down. Although her intentions were good, her time in office has been plagued with scandals, from the murder of Sarah Everard to the half-hearted investigation of the Downing Street parties. Not only are these scandals shameful in themselves, but they become far worse when you consider the Met’s lack of reaction and active change.

That is why, for me, it is a welcome reprieve to see Dick stepping down. It is finally a sign of action being taken at the Met, and actions speak louder than words. However, I will need to see much more action than a mere change of Commissioner to regain any sort of trust in British Policing. 

Problems in the Met have been denied for too long. Just last year, Dick maintained that any misogynistic or racist police officers were simply the occasional ‘bad ‘un’ rather than symptomatic of a wider problem. More recently, however, reports have shown the exact opposite. In contrast to Dick’s previous statements, the police watchdog said : “We believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’.” Which isn’t really surprising to most of us.

This systemic problem has been evident for years, from the shocking story of officers taking selfies with the dead bodies of the murdered sisters Biba Henry and Nicole Smallman, calling them “dead birds”, to accounts describing how the colleagues of Sarah Everard’s murderer previously nicknamed him ‘the rapist’. This problem of violence and misogyny was evident then, and it is evident now. Tragically, no lessons have been learned. Just a couple of weeks ago, a report was released on the misconduct of some officers stationed at Charing Cross station. Shocking messages shared in various WhatsApp and Facebook group chats were found, including:

(To a female officer) “I would happily rape you”

“Getting a woman into bed is like spreading butter. It can be done with a bit of effort using a credit card, but it’s quicker and easier just to use a knife.”

The Guardian, Crime Correspondent

When I read these messages, not only do I feel furious, appalled and upset… I feel scared. These are the people I am meant to rely on in a crisis, when I am most vulnerable and in need of help. As a woman living in London, these messages are not ‘banter’ between mates, or an example of a few ‘bad un’s’, they are a direct threat to my safety. A violent reminder of the dangerous line I tread and another thing to haunt my thoughts as I walk home alone at night. 

These messages were not from just one person – many police officers were sharing these messages and nothing was said or done. There may be a few ‘bad un’s’ who are actually the perpetrators of these depraved acts, but then there are also those that do not report them, turning a blind eye for fear of repercussions. The Charing Cross report revealed threats against those who might break the silence: “There’s a few of those grassing c***s I would like to knife”. Many officers, especially those who are of marginalised groups, choose to leave the police rather than risk reporting

Perhaps you can’t find every “bad un” in an organisation, but you can develop a culture where people will speak up when they see something that is not okay. However, the warm reception given to misogynistic texts and contempt for those who speak out betray a culture that is institutionally broken.

This is the heart of the problem and why I can no longer trust the police. I know that not all police officers type these messages and many are just as appalled and scared as me. I know that there are police officers out there doing all they possibly can to help others. But there is a problem taking place that is wider than individuals. Whether they are a ‘bad un’ or a ‘good un’, the problem is not limited to them only. As we have seen and felt and heard, and as the Police Watchdog finally now acknowledges, misogyny and racism are institutionalised within the police force.

The problems are so widespread and pervasive that I am starting to become numb to the shock of it. I am becoming desensitised to the horrors that have been committed by those who are placed so importantly in a position of authority. Even now, in researching for this article, I have learnt how high the rates of domestic violence are amongst police officers. There have been over 800 allegations in the last 5 years, of which only 5% were prosecuted, lower than the 9% rate for the average citizen. One of the most crushing things about discovering this is that it really didn’t surprise me. 

Higher-ups seem oblivious to the depth of this distrust. When campaigns for the London mayoral elections came out last year, I was confused at all their promises of putting thousands of new police onto the streets. For me, this was instantly off-putting and not the appealing campaign promise they thought it was. I would rather see investment to change the Met from its current mess, cleaning up their recruitment practices and working from within to change their cultural values, instead of giving us more police officers with the same old problems.

All this is so upsetting because I really want to rely on the police and trust them when I feel unsafe. But I cannot blindly place trust where evidence suggests I should be cautious. I remember learning in Primary School that, if I found myself in danger, I was to find and speak to a uniformed police officer. Yet, I also remember learning about stranger-danger, and those instincts outweigh any show of uniform now. I am not alone in this; 50% of Londoners said they distrust the police in a poll in December 2021. 

Hopefully, change will come soon. The removal of Cressida Dick has both a symbolic and practical importance. There is a chance for a new leader to bring about the deep cultural change in the organisation that will mean this behaviour is no longer quietly ignored. There is responsibility for higher-ups to deal effectively and sensitively with all reports of harassment, just as there is an equal responsibility on all members of the Met to make those reports in the first place. A change in leader is one step in the right direction. I have to hope, for my own sake at least, that more steps will follow and that one day the police can prove my distrust wrong.