A few days ago, the final report of an independent review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) was published. The review was conducted by Baroness Dame Louise Casey following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer in 2021. The scope of the review was to engage with current and former Met personnel to understand their lived experiences, examine the standards of behaviour expected by officers and staff, and investigate adherence to those standards. (p 347). The review’s chief findings include that the Met lacks accountability and transparency; tolerates discrimination; is deeply rooted in homophobia, racism, sexism and misogyny; is poorly managed and run; under-protects and over-polices Black Londoners; and that public confidence in the Met has dipped below 50%. The review also remarks that there has been a de-prioritisation of public protection which has adversely impacted women and children: some of these specific issues include lack of administrative support and specialist training for rape and sexual offences; long wait periods for forensic results; dilapidated or broken fridges containing evidence (including the rape kits of victims); and ‘freezers crammed full of evidence samples, which were overflowing, frosted over and taped shut’. (pp 15, 147, 179). The review records that, like other public services, austerity has severely impacted the functioning of the Met.
Amongst the most concerning findings of the review are those relating to discrimination within the workforce. The review collected data through listening exercises, discussion groups, interviews, and their own survey of almost 7000 staff and officers. The review notes that a toxic culture of bullying underpins the workforce, with initiation tests rife with mistreatment and humiliation. For example, officers disclosed that women were pressured to compete in food eating challenges until they would vomit (p 181), that people were urinated on in the shower (p 241), and that male officers would flick one other’s genitals (p 240) and put dildos in coffee cups. Instances of bullying and harassment also specifically targeted officers on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and disability: bacon was left in the boots of a Muslim officer (p 241), members of the LGBTQ+ community were subject to sexually explicit ‘banter’ (p 246), and those with disabilities were targeted with patronising and toxic ableism (p 241).
Gendered mistreatment was also prevalent across the Met. Women officers recounted that their achievements were routinely underplayed and that they were subject to condescending comments, unwanted sexual attention and overt inappropriate sexual comments, harassment, and violence (p 267). These sexist or patronising comments were routinely downplayed as ‘banter’ when women tried to complain. The review notes that there is a legitimate fear among women that there will be serious implications for their career if they challenge or report such misogynist behaviour (p 273). The review also specifically mentions cases in which Met officers protected colleagues accused of domestic violence. (pp 276-280).
Interviews and surveys with both retired and serving officers of colour likewise reveal stigmatisation and ‘an assumption that all senior Black, Asian, and ethnic minority officers have benefitted from positive action initiatives’ (p 296). The review notes that the misconduct system indicates inequality: while Black officers were four times more likely to raise grievance allegations than their White counterparts, Black officers were also 81% more likely to find themselves in the misconduct system and ‘allegations against Black and Asian officers were also more likely to result in a ‘case to answer’ decision’. (pp 300-329). The review observes that allegations pertaining to race and faith-based discrimination are poorly recorded and more likely to result in ‘no case to answer’. (p 304).
The review concludes that the vetting process of the Met relies on self-declarations and is ‘not vigilant in identifying clear warning signs such as previous indecent exposure or domestic abuse from applicant officers’. The review also notes that patterns of toxic and discriminatory behaviour are not acknowledged within the institution, and that complaints and concerns are poorly recorded and are more likely to dismissed than acted upon. Those who do manage to speak out face severe backlash. On these grounds Baroness Casey concludes that institutional racism, misogyny, and homophobia are pervasive within the Met.
The review provides several recommendations for reforming the Met, including the following:
- apologising to Londoners for their past failings;
- fundamentally reforming ‘stop and search’ practices by requiring the officer as a minimum to ‘give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and a receipt confirming the details of the stop’;
- radically reforming and re-specialising Public Protection teams, especially teams dealing with rape and sexual violence;
- dedicated women’s and children protection services;
- setting new, stronger vetting and behavioural standards;
- establishing a ‘new, independent, multi- disciplinary team of officers and staff’ to deal with misconduct cases.
It is crucial that these measures are implemented immediately to uphold the Peelian principles of policing by consent (i.e. securing and maintaining the respect and approval of the public). Without this, citizens will be unable to trust in the systemic integrity of the police force, with critical implications for how the public perceives and interacts with the institution. The review’s findings also have urgent consequences for how crime is reported and investigated, especially pertaining to offences involving sexual violence or hate crimes, given that the system itself is deeply rooted in misogyny, racism, and homophobia.