It’s time to reset the culture in the Met Police

Charing Cross police station in central London.
Charing Cross police station in central London.

Doesn’t it always start with words? Words lead to attitudes which become entrenched then reinforced and normalised in actions. The report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published this week contained some horrifying racist, sexist and misogynist quotes from serving Police officers exchanged on social media, in conversations with colleagues.

Some were inevitably excused as ‘banter’ – a dangerous word.  Banter is a catch-all term which excuses all manner of comments, from those which are slightly socially off, through to the downright offensive and abusive.  Banter is directly addressed by Jewish Women’s Aid’s practitioners when educating about language in our schools programmes, on campus and in our Creating Healthy Workplaces programme. We analyse the impact of banter – making colleagues, classmates and partners feel uncomfortable, unable to speak out, and ultimately unsafe.  Responsible employers and senior leaders in schools are working hard to eradicate banter because they understand that it’s the beginning of entrenching dangerous attitudes, it creates the culture that surrounds us.

If for example women are referred to pejoratively and are demeaned each day, with little or no challenge, a bystander could be forgiven for starting to believe the normalised remarks.  The colleagues of officers quoted in the IOPC as saying ‘knock a bird about and she will love you’ or ‘I would happily rape you’, struggled to call this behaviour out.  Once that’s the case, it becomes easier to participate, and words and attitudes are more likely to lead to actions.

Is this the culture that enables monsters like Wayne Couzens who brutally strangled poor Sarah Everard with his Police-issue belt? How would these officers mired in this culture respond to a woman being attacked, what would their attitude be to a domestic abuse callout or a rape victim who reported a crime?

The report also exposed other seriously concerning attitudes – if Police officers are referencing Auschwitz as ‘banter’ between themselves, does that mean they are Holocaust deniers? Does it mean that they would support a Jewish person who’s being verbally abused?  Do they understand how a vulnerable minoritised community can feel? Do they tolerate racism?

People who have moral authority over us, whose role is to enforce law, to reprimand and make arrests should be held and hold themselves to a higher standard.

Until now, we were being reassured that the problem within the Met Police was one of ‘a few bad apples’ but sadly the problem seems to be more stubborn, more systematic.  We all want to trust our Police force and we are generally of the view that most Police officers are decent and that they are there for the right reasons.  But there are just too many examples now of appalling behaviour to be excused or minimised.

This week’s Jewish News front page

It’s time to reset the culture in the Met Police, and this will need to be a systematic, methodical and long-term piece of work. That’s why I’m glad that the IOPC report has published a series of recommendations which it intends The Met Police to implement across the force.

Effecting culture change is hard – it has to come from the top, but it must also be embedded across the breadth of the force so that all officers know that abusive behaviour – including so-called banter – is not tolerated. The consequences of it left unchecked must be understood and each and every person who hears it or reads it should be encouraged to call it out in the knowledge that they will be supported.  It’s time to press the reset button.

About the Author
Naomi Dickson is Chief Executive of Jewish Women’s Aid