Mark Rowley, as anticipated, has been named the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and the one thing everyone agrees about is that he’s got a big, difficult job to do. The familiar list of chilling scandals that have seen Londoners’ already sliding confidence in the service plummet can be summarised by a list of names: Everard, Port, Bibaa and Nicole, Charing Cross, Daniel Morgan, Child Q and on and on and on.
Where to start? The Met is a very big organisation, with nearly 34,000 warranted officers and nearly 10,000 other staff organised into four “business groups”. It needs a very big sorting out. The form of “special measures” it was placed under last month – for the first time in its history – was prompted not only by the sickening episodes above but by quite astonishing failures to fulfil the most basic tasks.
A letter from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary detailing the reasons for this close monitoring of the Met also described a dismal inability to properly handle emergency and non-emergency calls, an estimated 69,000 crimes a year going unrecorded, a huge backlog of online child abuse referrals and a failure to correctly record the grounds for stop-and-search in roughly one in four cases.
Rowley, a former chief constable of Surrey police who went on to head the Met’s counter terrorism operations before leaving policing in 2018, is an advocate of greater reliance on data and technology. Perhaps one priority for him should be ensuring that officers and staff have at least a basic level of competence in using it. He’s also seen by close observers as likely to place more emphasis on transparency and openness – an area in which his predecessor, Cressida Dick, fell short.
(As a journalist I would welcome clearer and more helpful communication. I’ve been writing for 15 years about the policy areas where London Mayors have had significant power and influence, and long ago gave up trying to get useful guidance or information from the Met’s media department).
Danny Shaw, the former BBC home affairs correspondent, expects a shake-up the Met’s top team and says Rowley isn’t someone who will “shirk tough or unpopular decisions”. Let’s hope he’s right.
On getting the job, Rowley himself defined his mission as leading “the renewal of policing by consent which has been so heavily dented in recent years as trust and confidence have fallen” and pledged to deliver “more trust, less crime and high standards for London and beyond” and to “work with London’s diverse communities”.
Those comments are in line with what Sadiq Khan asked for in his major speech about crime and policing at City Hall last month, as might be expected given that Rowley is now directly accountable to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. Khan has welcomed Rowley’s appointment, saying that his four years away from policing means he brings with him a valuable “outside perspective”.
The outside perspective of very many Londoners is that too many Met officers lie somewhere on a spectrum between clueless and sinister. From a personal point of view I’ve pretty much stopped bothering with the non-emergency 101 number and have lately reached a stage where I would think twice about letting a Met cop into my house, for fear that he or she was one of those with a head full of nasty attitudes – and I’m not a member of a London community likely to be most suspicious of our city’s police.
So good luck to Mark Rowley as he embarks on turning the rusty, sometimes creepy and too often incompetent Met tanker around. He’s going to need all he can get.
Image from BBC Breakfast News.
On London strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for £5 a month or £50 a year and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.