Earlier this month, writing in the Guardian, Owen Jones reflected on the troubling findings of the Stephen Lawrence Independent Reviewand asked for a damning charge-sheet of previous Met wrong-doing to be taken into consideration. He argued that the bad apples are too numerous, and the rot too toxic, for the barrel to be licensed for further use. So the Met should, he concluded, be abolished.
Among the cases he lists Stephen Lawrence, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes, press relations, Plebgate, the behaviour of undercover officers, deaths in custody are failures on a scale that words can barely describe. Urgent action is needed. But is abolishing the Met the answer? What would be put in its place? If you get rid of the barrel, what are you going to keep your apples in that isn’t just another barrel? And wouldn’t it be wiser to first identify and learn some of the lessons from this catalogue of errors in order to avoid simply repeating them?
So what should happen? Firstly, let’s accept that there is no simple, readily available alternative. Passing the buck to a Royal Commission merely delays rather than solves; and by the time it reports events will no doubt have long overtaken it. Few would not welcome a full, wide-ranging and inclusive debate about the future of policing, but that’s not going to solve the problems at the Met.
Secondly, is it the sheer scale of the Met that makes it dysfunctional or that it simply struggles to deal with the heady mix of demands thrown at it by virtue of its unique capital-city status and extra (often national) responsibilities? It is more than significant that that many of the scandals listed above emanate from these unique functions, (diplomatic protection, counter-terrorism, policing major demonstrations, to name but a few).
Thirdly, although it stops short of abolition, we now have, at least in theory, a democratic mechanism for making significant changes to the way our police services are run. With the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, (or in the case of the Met, the Mayor and his designated Deputy), the public now have the power to decide who holds our police to account and to remove those who do not do so adequately. (Perhaps in London, one might argue that the Mayor, as the democratically elected representative, should hold the Met to account rather than being able to delegate this to an unelected Deputy). So far these elected figures have principally concerned themselves with the more managerial aspects of accountability – crime rates, cost-savings and the like but perhaps in future it will be their capacity to deliver “good” policing (in the broadest sense), or at least “good enough” policing that will do the most to expunge the barrels of their bad apples.