The London Policing Board was appointed and is chaired by Sadiq Khan, as recommended by Baroness Louise Casey in her damning review of standards and internal culture in the Metropolitan Police. One of Casey’s conclusions was that the Met “lacks transparency and scrutiny”. She said the board “should be created to drive forward the changes called for in this review”.
The first of the board’s quarterly public meetings took place on Tuesday. Mayor Khan has appointed a varied group of 12 people to it, including Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, Neil Basu, a retired senior Met officer, Paula McDonald, a former senior civil servant who now chairs youth charity Redthread, and Tijs Broeke, a City of London councillor and deputy chair of the City police authority board.
The purpose of the board
The meeting was addressed by Casey, who said she was “delighted” by the calibre and collective experience of the board, and that it confirmed for her that she had been right to trust Khan’s assurance that he would take her review’s findings “incredibly seriously”.
She listed its recommendations, which included “new oversight and accountability”, of which the new board is an element. They also included a clean up of the Met to clear out prejudice, discrimination and bullying, a far better service to women and girls, and a “new deal for Londoners” largely in the form of far better neighbourhood and response policing.
Casey told the board that “the biggest barrier to change” of the types she wants to see is the Met’s “management and organisational culture”, which means “it doesn’t learn from its mistakes” and “its default response is defensiveness and denial, starting from a position of no blame for anything”.
Casey described the board’s task as being to “support both the Mayor and the Met” in correcting the many serious failings her review had identified. And she had a few observations about progress so far, asking if the three board committees potentially replicate work already done by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime? (the board’s terms of reference define its role as providing “specialist advice and constructive challenge to effectively support the Mayor – as incumbent of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime – in holding the MPS to account for delivering wide-ranging MPS reforms”.) Would the board be better off “commissioning deep dives into particular areas”, Casey wondered.
Alighting on the report for the meeting by Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who was present, Casey remarked that although it was good that all 32 London boroughs now have a superintendent, a big problem for area policing she had identified was that local commanders “couldn’t control who was coming in and out of their boroughs and what was going on”, with consequences for accountability and trust.
She cited an incident documented in her review of members of the Met’s centrally-controlled Violent Crime Task Force turning up, removing a ten-year-old black boy from his garden and pinning him to ground (page 132). When the child’s parents complained to their local Basic Command Unit commander, it apparently took eleven working days to find out what had happened on their patch.
“The big issues are sat there in the corner,” Casey said, stressing to the board her view that its primary job is to grip addressing them rather than spending too much time on meetings, organisational structures and compiling papers.
Violence against women and girls
Rowley (pictured) said he is seeking to “bring in the counter-terrorism approach to how we tackle male predatory violence against women and girls”, part of which “ought to be going after the most dangerous offenders”. He said the Met hadn’t done this previously, “because of the enormous numbers”.
Rowley revealed that last year in London 35,000 men had allegations made against them of rape, domestic violence, child abuse and so on. However, thanks to making a start on what he called a “data-led approach” to dealing with “predatory offenders”, there had been “some early arrests” of individuals on a list of the 100 thought most dangerous.
“Caseloads for domestic violence and rape have tripled or quadrupled in the last decade or so,” Rowley told the board, but “the resources have done nothing like that, and it’s not surprising that our officers are over-stretched and stressed and not delivering to the calibre any of us would want”.
In June last year, the Met was put under the advanced “engage” level of monitoring by police service inspectors because of persistent failings in a number of areas. One of them was its handling of calls from the public. Rowley told the board that a national target of 90 per cent of all 999 calls being answered within ten seconds “hasn’t been reliably hit” by the Met “since about 2016” and that a year ago the level was around just 60 per cent, month by month.
But now, he said, this had picked up to reach between 80 and 90 per cent and, in addition, “waiting times on non-urgent calls are coming down dramatically”. This improvement, he said, showed how “some focus can deliver change”.
Police staffing levels
Earlier this month, Rowley said the Met had been losing more warranted officers that it had been recruiting, meaning that in April it had fallen 1,000 short of the government’s “uplift” target and was getting further from its target of 35,500 rather than nearer – a trend set to continue. He told the board this meant that the cash allocated by the government to the Met for this purpose – about £60 million – would have to be returned, “even though I could make really good use of that, recruiting police staff”.
Elaborating, Rowley said that a shortage of such staff meant, “we’ve got too many police officers doing support jobs like HR [human resources] because we’re geared wrong as a force between staff and officers”. The £60 million would pay for up to 1,200 additional staff, which would free a similar number of officers for work on “the frontline” instead. The recruitment problem is tied up with a number of things, he said, such as cost of living and some undeniable “reputational issues” putting people off.
The criminal justice system
“Some analysis has been done suggesting it’s at least five times as expensive, i.e. time-consuming, to put a case before the court as it was two decades ago,” Rowley said. “There was a change in policy in 2018 from the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] and at that point you see domestic violence prosecutions drop down dramatically. So there’s some real system issues there that need addressing.”
He continued: “There’s lots we need to do better, and we can do anyway, but we need help from the system. And we’re living in a constrained funding environment. To have the same money to police London per head of population as we had a decade ago we’d need a 28 per cent uplift.”
Rowley promised announcements to come “over the next few months” about improving neighbourhood policing, more initiatives for combatting violence against women and girls, a strategy for “caring for and protecting young people” and a “stop-and-search charter”, currently in public consultation, and getting officers located closer to communities. “There’s lots to do there,” he said.
Board members had many questions, including about Rowley’s refusal to accept the term “institutionally racist” to describe a service in which black and Asian Londoners have long had low levels of confidence, and have now been joined by women, gay people and young and not-so-young Londoners as a whole. He prefers the word “systemic” to describe the rot in the Met, arguing that “institutional” has become a term open to different interpretations, not all of them helpful.
Both he and Casey also referred indirectly to the various reactions to the firearms officer who fatally shot Chris Kaba being charged with murder (reported here).
Watch the entire London Policing Board meeting, which went on for more than three hours, here.