If you didn’t get the memo, last week it was announced the The Metropolitan Police are now under ‘special measures’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). Hard not to get this particular memo though, it’s been splashed across every news bulletin, headline and media outlet in the land and the move has been welcomed by Priti Patel. If the media’s mood is anything to go by, people should be cracking open the champagne at this latest blow to an already bruised police force. Alas, everywhere I look, the mood is one of cautious optimism at best. This development essentially means that The Met, will join 5 other UK Police Services (Greater Manchester, Cleveland, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire and Wiltshire) who have been placed under increased scrutiny and made to report to inspectors more regularly.
Whilst it’s great that something is being done about The Met, I do have to wonder, what were their other options: Continue to be filmed brutalising black bodies? Aim to solve fewer crimes than their current 5.8% overall (1.3% for rape) record low. Drive away the few women who still trust them? Or, promote the other half of the investigation team whose institutionally homophobic failings were deemed likely to have contributed to a serial killer continuing to kill young gay men. I’m not sure it’s possible for The Met to sink any lower, Something had to be done. But before we break out the bunting, the one thing many of us are keen to know is the same thing that HMIC has been less forthcoming to share. What happens if The Met don’t make significant improvements? What if the police continue to ignore crimes against women, fail LGBTQ+ people and enact violence against the black community? We know what happens to schools and hospitals that ‘fail to improve’ after being put in special measures, they’re closed down. Yet, I’m doubtful that this would happen to the UK’s biggest police service. Special measures for the police is a bit like the £50 fine handed to politicians for the lockdown parties; a public slap on the wrists at best, a PR ‘damage limitation’ exercise at worst.
It’s likely that the Met, and wider UK Police Forces, will continue along the same violent trajectory, beating down bystanders in a public demonstration that it’s ‘business as usual boys.’ Last week’s video of Merseyside Police gave us our weekly reminder that institutional racism persists in policing. Officers were filmed pointing rifles at innocent black teenagers whilst telling them to ‘Shut Up’ and, allegedly, tightening handcuffs when one of the boys complained about his treatment. A worrying trend that this video highlighted was the police making threats to seize the phones of those trying to film the incident; this was a blatant intimidation tactic. My grim prediction is that we are months away from a shiny new law protecting the police from those pesky phones and authorising them, and only them, to film such incidents – and we all know how often officers ‘remember’ to turn on their body cams.
Special measures is more of the same, the police investigating themselves and accounting to nobody. I might have more faith if HMIC’s chief inspector was someone other than my old boss, former Merseyside Police Chief Constable Andy Cooke, a man who recently made headlines by declaring a ‘war on woke’. Cooke believes that the solutions to the Police’s many problems is to go back to ‘kicking down doors’ and to step away from ‘kissing babies’ and ‘small p’ politics. This was widely believed to be an indication that the Police will be paying even less attention to misogyny and transphobia. We know how it ends when the police investigate the police, it does not lead to the radical reform needed but a gentle tinkering with a broken system. We need autonomous scrutiny and reporting to independent bodies, made up of the communities who the police cause the most harm to. Until this happens, nothing much will change.
The Police must commit to taking full, public ownership of their institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia or communities will continue to withdraw consent. Pride London are the latest to withdraw consent, responding to calls from LGBTQ+ campaigners who have long questioned why police officers, who have a history of wilful neglect and harm towards the LGBTQ+ community, are given pride of place at the front of marches. Add to this Pride’s radical roots in protests, that were almost banned earlier this year under the PCSC Act, it would be nonsensical to allow this to continue. Thankfully, London Pride has read the room and banned uniformed officers from attending Saturday’s procession. This has led to campaign group Reclaim Pride Liverpool calling for Liverpool Pride to do the same.
It is unlikely that this week’s special measures announcement will change the public mood. With the unrepentant ‘we’re not racist but’ Merseyside Police Force refusing to apologise to the young boys who were terrorised by their armed officers, I’d argue that HMIC should add a few more names to their special measures list.