Baroness Louise Casey is to lead a review into culture and standards at the Metropolitan Police. With public trust in police nationally at an all-time low, what questions should she ask and what measures are likely to elicit change?
When the Metropolitan Police recently advised women – fearing for their safety after the murder of Sarah Everard as she was walking home – to flag down a bus or demand identification if an officer approaches them, it was described as laughable. Public trust in those working for the police, and not just in London, is at a low.
Numerous stories about police have emerged before and since the conviction of serving officer Wayne Couzens for the murder, including reports of WhatsApp threads sharing offensive and sexist content, of harassment complaints being ignored, and a general culture where sexism and misogyny is not challenged.
Last week it was announced that Baroness Louise Casey will lead an independent review into culture and standards at the Metropolitan Police. Commissioner Cressida Dick has promised that Baroness Casey will “ask the difficult questions” to get to the heart of that culture and propose how it can be turned around.
Some believe the Met should have gone further. Nazir Afal, former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, has argued there should be a full judicial inquiry into why an officer such as Couzens could continue to serve.
Working in the police
Previous inquiries such as the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence have set in motion major change, he believes. In a comment piece for the Daily Mail, Afal said that “the argument that Sarah’s murder was a one-off by a ‘bad apple’ simply doesn’t stand up to meaningful scrutiny”.
“The recent disclosure that more than 1,000 officers across the country have been investigated for ‘inappropriate and offensive communications’ in the past five years is just one example,” he added. Former female officers have also reported incidents of casual sexism and careers blighted by an old boy’s club mentality.
If the culture at a major employer such as the Metropolitan Police is as rotten as is claimed, where should an independent review even start?
Dr Angus Nurse, head of criminology and criminal justice at Nottingham Trent University, says that Baroness Casey’s initial questions should focus on the extent to which such entrenched views are prevalent and understood in the organisation.
“This might include examining how any complaints related to sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination are dealt with, the extent to which it is possible for staff to raise issues or complaints about these and the extent to which they may be uncovered through performance monitoring or other processes,” he explains.
“Complaints systems can sometimes be process-driven so that while there is a mechanism that allows affected individuals (or even groups) to raise complaints, the process becomes one about logging the level and number of complaints and defending an organisational position, rather than learning lessons from the complaints and staff or ‘customer’ expressions of dissatisfaction, and identifying issues for organisational change.”
This could also include a review of how employees are vetted, and whether and how performance monitoring processes consider issues such as individual sexism or racism that could have an impact on others.
In 1999, Macpherson laid bare the “canteen culture” that contributed to alleged institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police. And while there may have been some improvements in the intervening years, that does not mean the issue has been ‘fixed’, adds Nurse.
Of all the areas and sectors I’ve worked in, policing had the strongest culture.” – Angela O’Connor, HR consultant and former HR director
He says: “Racism and sexism have never gone away and there have been suggestions that the police like many large institutions is both in denial about the extent of the problem and unfortunately also risks enabling those that hold racist or sexist attitudes through a failure to appropriately challenge such behaviours and create a zero-tolerance attitude towards them.
“In this respect, one challenge is that of embedding that zero-tolerance mentality across an organisation and doing so in a way that ensures that it is both top down and bottom up such that a culture exists where any problematic cultural issues are addressed.”
Professor Binna Kandola, business psychologist and inclusion specialist at Pearn Kandola, agrees – progress has been slow and invisible.
“We know what the solution is to sexual harassment in many respects, but things don’t change,” he says. “If you have a way people can complain without having to pass it up through a hierarchy, if you educate individuals on appropriate behaviour, these things should work. But it never changes and we’re left with myriad incidents that never come to anyone’s attention.”
Prof Kandola believes Baroness Casey should listen to the experiences of people who have been through the complaints process, asking about the obstacles they faced and what they would recommend to improve the process.
Nurse adds that one of the challenges with a major public-facing employer such as the Met is that there will already be codes of ethics and acceptable standards of behaviour in place.
“So, in one sense, the challenge is in ensuring that these are rigorously enforced, are appropriately monitored and that systems and policies are not just in place but are acted upon both in respect of individuals who may be outliers in respect of the views they hold and institutional processes that may fail to detect or act on those views and behaviours,” he says.
From the outside in
Angela O’Connor, CEO of consultancy The HR Lounge and a former HR director at the National Police Improvement Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service, believes policing culture is “the hardest to change”. “Of all the areas and sectors I’ve worked in, policing had the strongest culture, often with a hard separation between operational police employees and ‘civilians’,” she says.
With this in mind, Baroness Casey will need to work within terms of reference that are both broad and flexible. “If she sees something that’s of concern she needs to be able to look into it further. She’ll need to look at everything related to police culture, from training to recruitment to attraction – what is the police saying about the people it wants to bring in?”
If the Met (or any other force) wants to maintain public trust and the principle of “policing by consent”, she adds, it needs to think about how it communicates the values and behaviours it is looking for that chime with that principle.
At the same time, the review will need to look into inspectorates and disciplinary mechanisms, or who ‘polices the police’, she adds. External parties and HR could have a transformative role in ensuring a toxic culture fails to perpetuate.
“In HR we would look at employees’ fit with the culture, how their actions reflect the reputation of the organisation – we wouldn’t stop at the boundaries of the law, while the police themselves would arguably only investigate the legal issues,” adds O’Connor.
“We need to bring in other people who are not police officers to talk about their expertise. We can’t just have police training police, for example. We need to ensure that training is not just designed and delivered by retired officers,” she says.
Not just the police
There’s no doubt that problems of misogyny extend beyond one single organisation, but could they also be a reflection of society more widely? David Liddle, CEO and founder of resolution consultancy The TCM Group, believes this to be the case.
“The issues around misogyny, discrimination and ‘bad apples’ are happening across a number of organisations and is part of a broader conversation in society around justice, power and culture.
“They’re starting to think about how they hold people to account, the role of leaders, and how policies and processes support that. It’s about power with people rather than power over them.”
The polarising nature of social media makes it difficult for any employer – but particularly one in the police – to adopt a more restorative approach to its culture, he adds.
“Put people first rather than processes, listen to what they need, and armed with this information you can redefine those processes and justice systems” – David Liddle, TCM Group
“There is an element of social media lynch mob that believes the only way we can deal with misogyny and racism is to root people out and hang or flog them. All this does is create a vicious circle of blame, shame and punishment.”
This does not mean minimising acts of misogyny or harassment in the workplace, rather about holding people to account and creating a resolution framework based on values, Liddle argues. “Put people first rather than processes, listen to what they need, and armed with this information you can redefine those processes and justice systems.”
The terms of reference for Baroness Casey’s inquiry are yet to be set out by the government. The review is expected to take six months, and the findings will be made public.
“People are angry and won’t tolerate a lack of action after this,” says O’Connor. “This is a monumental issue and in the context of how women’s cases are treated, this cannot result without action. There are also thousands of good officers whose names have been brought into disrepute. This has to go beyond lessons being learned and boxes being ticked.”