COMMENT: Does it matter who replaces Cressida Dick as head of a racist police force?

Thursday, February 17, 2022 — NetPol

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick with London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick with London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Inevitably, speculation has begun on who will take over from the outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner, following the recent announcement of Cressida Dick’s early departure from the most senior policing position in the country.

Front runners apparently include Matt Jukes, the Met’s head of counter-terrorism policing who was previously Chief Constable of South Wales Police, along with Andy Marsh who was Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset at the time of the riots in Bristol in March 2021.

Dick’s formal announcement of her resignation admits that the “murder of Sarah Everard and many other awful cases recently have… damaged confidence” in the Met whilst claiming, conversely, that the force was “more accountable, more transparent and more open than ever – with deeper links to our communities”.

That is a bold claim, one that bears little resemblance to our experience or our monitoring work.

Policing the pandemic

At the start of coronavirus pandemic, as London’s streets became their quietest for decades and when crime levels had actually fallen, the Metropolitan Police’s use of stop and search powers increased by over 40% between April and June 2020. A staggering 22,000 black people were searched in London during the lockdown, the equivalent of over a quarter of black men aged 15 to 24 in the capital. Members of racialised communities were also disproportionately fined for alleged breaches of the lockdown.

There has been no accountability, or indeed a proper explanation, for this mass targeting of London’s young black population.

As witness testimony subsequently highlighted in “Britain Is Not Innocent”, Netpol’s report on the policing of that summer’s Black Lives Matter protests,, it was again young black people, the organisers of the first protests in May 2020, who were far more likely than their white counterparts to face arrest, excessive force and the use of stop and search powers during and after demonstrations.

Justifications for so-called “positive benefits” of stop and search often fall back on its alleged deterrent impact, despite the requirement for the legal use of these powers in most instances to require “reasonable grounds” – in pursuit, in other words, of investigation, not prevention.

This is precisely why the Met’s decision to authorise a massive increase in the use of Section 60 powers during the start of the lockdown in 2020 – powers that do not require officers to provide justifiable suspicion – were so alarming.

There has been no accountability, or indeed a proper explanation, for this mass targeting of London’s young black population.

Instead one senior officer, Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House (another one of the front runners to take over from Dick), last year committed the Met to continuing these tactics, adding: “I’m trying to decriminalise the word disproportionate”.

This willingness to carry on regardless ignores research in 2019, based on the Met’s own data from the last ten years, that found little evidence of any impact of stop and search on violent crime and no evidence for its impact on robbery, theft or criminal damage.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that around half of the 18-24 year old Londoners polled by YouGov last year said they felt the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.

Policing in denial

This week the Times reported that another senior London officer, Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, spoke out at a meeting of the National Police Chiefs Council against any concessions to this idea that racism is institutional within policing In Britain.

Ball’s colleague Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bas Javid, the brother of health secretary Sajid Javid, has been prepared to at least concede in an interview for BBC Newsnight that there are Metropolitan Police officers “who have racist views and are racist”.

However. Javid’s mildly more progressive statement still refused to accept that it is the Met’s strategic decisions and practices – actions at an institutional level – that are the problem, rather than a few ‘bad apples’.

With this level of denial, no indication that any senior officer has any interest in changing its favoured tactics on the streets and absolutely no incentive for the Metropolitan Police to do so from a right-wing populist Home Secretary, it really matters very little who becomes the next Commissioner.

Instead what matters most is how, collectively, we hold the police to account.

It is why Netpol is fully behind the call for the creation of local Cop Watch groups, why we are getting ready to monitor the implementation of the worst culture war elements of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and why we will continue to monitor how the police attempt to spy on and disrupt its opponents.

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