Yesterday, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police lost her job. After 40 years of public service, she reached the end of the road. And there were plenty of people lining up in the immediate aftermath of the announcement to say that it was not before time.
There can be no avoiding the fact that the Met is in a desperately difficult place at the moment – as difficult as any that I can recall in the last twenty years. And, in fairness, critics of the organisation and its leadership have not been short of evidence in support of their concerns:
It’s a list that makes for unbelievably grim reading. I am a fiercely proud former police officer, but there have been several occasions in recent times when I have sat at home with my head in my hands, entirely lost for words in the face of it all.
And the unavoidable fact is that all of it happened on the current Commissioner’s watch.
Surely she had to go?
Maybe she did. But, before any of us can can properly answer that question, there are a number of other factors that we need to consider first – not least the suggestion that the job that Cressida Dick was being asked and expected to do was an impossible one from the very start.
Consider the following direct consequences of decisions made by the government from 2010-2018:
And the government did each of these things in spite of the warnings given by anyone with a passing understanding of policing and how it actually works. Those who raised their concerns were dismissed out of hand and accused of ‘crying wolf’.
But the government wasn’t just responsible for the damage done to policing. It was also responsible for damaging practically every other part of the public sector – in ways that had direct consequences for policing.
Consider the following:
And so the list goes on.
In almost every case, it has been police officers who have been asked to pick up the pieces that others have left behind. And all of it has been the consequence of conscious, deliberate political choices – cheered on relentlessly in certain, highly partisan, sections of the mainstream media and in the social media feeds of those possessing little more than an armchair and an ill-informed opinion.
Policing has always been a difficult job – but the decisions taken in the last decade by people outside of policing (people with no real understanding of – or affection for – the job and its people) have made it almost impossible:
Compared with the situation in 2010, we currently have fewer police officers and staff, working with fewer resources, doing a job that is more difficult, more demanding and frequently more dangerous than it has ever been before. And none of that is the fault of the current Met Commissioner.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to do here.
I’m not attempting to mount some kind of blind defence of policing and its very obvious shortcomings. That’s the very last thing I want to do. Policing is in all sorts of trouble at the moment – and there should no shying away from its many faults and failings. But what I am trying to do is to encourage us to think more widely about the context with which all of this is taking place – a context created by politicians who have broken the legs of policing and left the rest of us to wonder why it is no longer able to run.
Perhaps the departure of the Commissioner was inevitable. Many would say necessary. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that alone is the answer to the situation that the Met currently finds itself in. If we genuinely want Cressida Dick’s successor to succeed – and it is surely in all of our interests that they do – we need to make sure that the job we are asking and expecting them to do is a whole lot less impossible than it currently appears to be.
There will be those who say that we can’t afford to do those things. My response would be to say that we cannot afford not to.
In closing, there is one further thing that we need to do if we genuinely want better policing – in London and beyond. We need to redress the grotesque imbalance in the story currently being told about policing in this country.
Some police officers are racist. Some are misogynists. Some are homophobes. Some hold other views and behave in other ways that no reasonable person should ever tolerate. Those individuals need to get the hell out of policing, and none of us should rest until they’re gone.
But, at the same time, we need to remember that there are tens of thousands of police officers out there who are not like that: men and women who joined the job because they wanted to change the world and who turn up to work every single day in order to do just that. Those people desperately need and deserve our visible and vocal support.
Because they are some of the most extraordinary people you could ever hope to meet.
Because far too many of them are breaking under the impossible strain of it all.
Because they’re all we’ve got.