The latest headlines are about the 40 grand pay cut she’s volunteered to take but what will matter more about Cressida Dick when she starts work next Monday as, to be formal, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is how she can manage the small task of repelling terrorism, combatting violent street crime and increasing beat patrols at a time when the Met’s budget has been severely shrunk by government cuts without losing her reputation for looking inconvenient realities in the eye.
Those realities include the ones Londoners have become more chillingly aware of during the weeks since it was announced that she would be succeeding Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe as London’s and the nation’s top cop. The deranged terror attack in Westminster, in which a police constable was among those who lost his life, and Friday’s sickening assault on a teenage asylum-seeker in Croydon have not struck fear into the capital and its people, but for many will feed a troubling mood we all could do without.
Then there are the truths that too much debate about policing and crime, especially among media and politicians, seems to sidestep or simply not see. These concern unglamorous matters like routine operational efficiency when dealing with the public, earning and maintaining the trust required if people are to provide information or come forward as witnesses, knowing that any true measure of confidence in the Met entails more than simply deploying extra “bobbies on the beat” or senior officers talking tough about “the frontline”. There are recurring issues about the meaning of crime stats, the “screening out” out of reported offences and the “rationing” of responses to 999 calls (only last month the Met was was found to require improvement in this last area by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary).
The new commissioner’s varied cv and the respect she appears to have earned from an array of people she’s worked with give grounds for optimism on all these matters: at the Met she’s been in charge of counter terrorism, tackling gun crime and improving the Met’s diversity; she is an Oxford graduate who has studied criminology at Cambridge; she’s travelled widely; she’s walked the beat in the West End.
Her hardest time as a Met chief, the aftermath of the disastrous operation that resulted in the shooting dead of the innocent Charles de Menezes that she led, concluded with her being absolved of any personal blame. Some will never accept that, but her conduct, including at the inquest, won her praise for candour and strength under pressure. There will be more pressures of several kinds as she takes the helm at New Scotland Yard, the first woman to do so. May the same strengths be brought to bear.