LONDON – London’s police force has lost the confidence of the people it serves because it is riven with institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia and doesn’t do enough to weed out bad officers, according to a withering report commissioned after a young woman was raped and killed by a serving officer.
The Metropolitan Police Service, which has more than 34,000 officers and is Britain’s biggest police force, must “change itself” or face being broken up after failing to address these longstanding problems for more than two decades, investigators said in the report published Tuesday.
“It is not our job as the public to keep ourselves safe from the police. It is the police’s job to keep us safe as the public,’’ said Louise Casey, an expert on victims’ rights and social welfare who led the inquiry. “Far too many Londoners have now lost faith in policing to do that.”
Deep-seated bias, poor management and budget cuts mean that crimes against women and girls are poorly investigated, ethnic minority communities are over-policed and trust in the police is plummeting among LGBTQ people, the report found. These issues have been allowed to fester because whistle-blowers are ostracized, outside criticism is ignored and too many bad officers have been allowed to remain on the job, even after they’ve been charged with domestic abuse or harassing their colleagues.
While the findings echo the critique of big city police departments in the U.S. and other countries following the Black Lives Matter movement, they are especially damaging in Britain, where law enforcement is based on the concept of “policing by consent.” This means most officers don’t carry guns and they rely on the public to accept their presence in the community in return for the assurance that police will keep them safe.
The need to reverse the situation is so urgent that the Met’s top leadership welcomed the report and said it would be a catalyst for change.
Mark Rowley, who heads the department, said one couldn’t read the report and not be “upset, embarrassed and humbled.” Rowley was named commissioner six months ago after his predecessor was forced to resign after Mayor Sadiq Khan said he had lost confidence in her ability to lead the department.
“I absolutely accept the diagnosis that Louise Casey comes up with. We have racists, misogynists and homophobes in the organization,″ Rowley told Sky News. “And it’s not just about individuals. We have systemic failings, management failings and cultural failings.”
The Casey review was commissioned after a serving officer raped and killed Sarah Everard, a young marketing executive, as she walked home from a friend’s house in March 2021. But the department was recently hit with another scandal after another officer pled guilty to 48 rapes and dozens of other serious crimes committed over a 17-year period.
While Casey makes clear that the majority of officers do their jobs with integrity, she said good officers have been let down by the department’s defensive attitude. That has meant that the failings of corrupt officers are too often blamed on “bad apples,” missing the opportunity for the type of systemic change needed to reform the department, she said.
The Met must implement recruitment, training and disciplinary policies that attract good officers interested in serving their communities and weed out “predators and bullies” who want to use their power to cause harm, Casey said.
“In the absence of vigilance towards those who intend to abuse the office of constable, predatory and unacceptable behavior has been allowed to flourish,” she said in the report. “There are too many places for people to hide.”
Casey also highlighted central government austerity that has cut real term funding for the Met by 18% over the past decade. The department lost a fifth of its civilian staff and closed 126 police stations during the same period, effectively doing away with the concept of community policing, she said.
Underlying all of the problems is the way the force is managed, not its size, the inquiry found.
Casey likened the force’s efforts to reform to “climbing Everest in their flip-flops,’′ she told the BBC. “We need to get them climbing Everest in their boots.”
Everard’s murder two years ago prompted a national outcry as women shared their experiences of being threatened or attacked on the streets of London.
When hundreds gathered at Clapham Common in south London to draw attention to the violence women face every day, police broke up the rally, saying it was a violation of COVID-19 lockdown rules. Video posted on social media showed male officers grabbing hold of several women and pulling them away in handcuffs to screams and shouts from onlookers.
But the Everard case was just one in a series of recent scandals that have hit the Met in recent years.
In December 2021, two officers were jailed for taking and sharing photos of the bodies of two Black women after they were dispatched to guard the scene where the women had been slain.
The Met was also accused of homophobia over its failure to stop serial killer Stephen Port, who murdered four young men over a 15-month period in 2014 and 2015.
Detectives didn’t initially link the victims, all gay men in their 20s whose bodies were found near Port’s home in east London. They only began investigating the deaths as potential homicides after the family of the final victim pressed for action.
Casey’s review found that the department hasn’t treated violence against women and girls as seriously as other forms of violence.
The 363-page report also painted an alarming picture of how crimes against women and children are investigated due to a shortage of funding and a lack of specialized officers trained to handle these cases.
Officers investigating these crimes are forced to store rape samples in “over-stuffed, dilapidated or broken fridges and freezers,” because they don’t have access to fast-track forensic services, investigators found.
A lunchbox in one of these refrigerators contaminated the evidence. Another appliance broke down last summer, meaning the evidence was damaged and couldn’t be used in court.
But the problems extend beyond the treatment of women and girls.
Twenty-four years after another inquiry found that institutional racism was a key factor the Met’s failure to investigate the killing of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence, Casey highlighted the fact that the department is still disproportionately white and male.
About 17% of London police officers are Black, Asian or mixed race, compared with about 10% a decade ago, according to the latest department statistics. Women account for almost 31% of police officers, up from almost 25% in 2013.
Some 46% of London’s population is non-white, according to the 2021 census.
The report also found widespread bullying in the department, with one in five staff members that have protected characteristics — such as race, sexuality or disability — being victims.
Officers who gave evidence to the inquiry told of a Sikh officer whose beard was cut off because his colleagues thought it was funny and a Muslim officer who found bacon stuffed into his boots inside his locker.
“To deliver the police service London needs, the Met also needs to ensure it can recruit and retain the most talented officers and staff from all backgrounds,” the report said. “People are unlikely to join the Met if they think they will face discrimination at work.”