The Met is split in two – and the divide is destroying the force

The Casey report found the Met to be not one organisation but two
The Casey report found the Met to be not one organisation but two

For those looking to explain the litany of horror contained within the Baroness Casey review into the Metropolitan Police – the racism and misogyny, the bullying and the cronyism, or even just the dysfunction and poor clear-up rates – the statistics on page 92 of her report provide a dismal clue.

It is there that Lady Casey analyses the Met’s internal staff surveys. And it is there she finds figures showing that, for years, junior ranks have utterly derided their bosses. In 2015, just 17 per cent had “confidence in the senior leadership team”. Today, less than a quarter rate the top brass. Those senior leaders, however, overwhelmingly think they’re doing a great job. Some 86 per cent of superintendents are positive about the “leadership index”.

And what such contrasting figures reveal, and what is hammered home by Lady Casey again and again, is that the largest police force in the land is not one organisation but two, a disjointed and hollowed-out institution which pits central command, senior ranks and “elite” units at the top against local constables and sergeants in Basic Command Units (BCUs) at the bottom. Where, indeed, front-line work performed by the latter – the very business of public-facing policing – is starved of resources and “stigmatised” elsewhere in the Met itself. Where the lowest rungs of the hierarchy are left to fester while those at the top act like the rules do not apply to them.

It is a feudal system that seethes with discontent. Constables are suddenly handed non-negotiable 12-hour shifts despite childcare responsibilities, then watch as senior officers swan off to pick up their own kids; officers on the street spend their own money on tissues to comfort weeping crime victims while elite units have so much cash they can buy unnecessary high-end equipment such as tomahawk axes and night vision goggles which turned out to be useless.

It’s not just money. Lady Casey found that such units, like the Specialist Firearms (MO19) and Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection – of which the latter was home to Sarah Everard’s murderer Wayne Couzens and prolific rapist David Carrick – also have “toxic cultures” of bullying, racism, sexism and ableism.

“Normal rules,” she notes, “do not seem to apply.”

“There is a strong ‘them and us’ culture,” adds Lady Casey. “There is no ‘one Met’.” Local police – on “Borough”, as it’s known – are far more miserable than specialist units.

“The Borough is at the bottom – it’s the worst place to be,” says one officer. If it was the army, you’d say the force was on the brink of mutiny.

“In Borough, officers feel totally undervalued, totally unsupported, totally dumped on,” says Shabnam Chaudhri, who served with the Met for 30 years and who reached the position of detective superintendent despite the racism she says she faced in the ranks.

“Unlike specialist units which are considered elite, it was a terrible dumping ground where the work was stressful, thankless.”

The front line, as Lady Casey notes, “is treated by the Met as the least important part of the organisation. Officers [there] feel forgotten about and neglected… demoralised and let down by their leaders”, despite the fact that “Londoners see and rely on front-line officers the most day-to-day”.

“The division between the vast majority of front-line police and the more specialist units like firearms, counter-terrorism, is massive,” says David Spencer, former Met Police officer who is now head of crime and justice at the think tank Policy Exchange.

That is particularly toxic given that, he says, “around 85 per cent of people that join the police remain constables for their whole career”. “That’s an honourable career, yet that’s 85 per cent of the workforce who feel they are not properly invested in, or managed. Policing fails them.”

Feudal ethos

One perennial explanation is that the supervision of constables by sergeants – once considered key – has fallen away with pressure on numbers. The ratio of sergeants to constables has risen dramatically, from around 1:4. Now, Lady Casey says, it is often 1:12.  “Supervision was a lot better when I joined than when I left,” says Clifford Baxter, a retired sergeant of two decades standing in south London.

Yet, in truth, the fraying of that crucial constable-sergeant relationship is mirrored throughout the Met. “All the way through there is absolutely no system of leadership development. No basic management development at all,” says Spencer.

The result, notes Lady Casey, is that “the Met’s processes do not effectively root out bad officers, help to tackle mediocre officers, or truly support and develop good officers”.

Baroness Louise Casey’s review paints a dismal picture of the Met - Kirsty O'Connor/Pool via AP
Baroness Louise Casey’s review paints a dismal picture of the Met - Kirsty O'Connor/Pool via AP

Without decent training, supervision and management, Lady Casey says, officers in lower ranks inevitably sink into the “existing culture”, no matter how grotesque that might be. The “‘how we do things round here’, becomes more important than the stated values and intentions of the organisation”.

The Met’s feudal ethos has been entrenched in recent years, with local officers finding themselves increasingly stripped of power. “Authority has massively centralised,” says Spencer, confirming Lady Casey’s analysis that “the ‘centre’ at New Scotland Yard always trumps the local”.

As a result, BCUs often don’t hide their loathing of centralised units, like the Territorial Support Groups, better known to some front-line officers as “the Thick and Stupid Groups”.

In 2016, this power grab was cemented as the Met moved from a structure to match 32 London Boroughs, where local commanders got to know their “patch” and make decisions accordingly, to just 12 BCUs, each of which is now bigger than entire forces elsewhere in the country. “That was catastrophic for neighbourhood policing,” says Spencer and “typical of a wider ‘HQ knows best’ culture.”

The Met insists that much of this reorganisation was down to austerity, and there is no hiding the fact that £700m was taken out of the Met budget a decade ago. But Lady Casey lists exhaustively how those cuts fell hardest on neighbourhood policing and the crucial support services around it - recruitment, vetting, intelligence work. Centralisation “was an active choice of leaders,” says Spencer.

Short-term loyalty and long-term consequences

The Met’s two worlds, its aristocracy and its serfs, have also become ever more isolated from one another because the promotion system – which notionally connects the two – is universally regarded as broken. Lady Casey even heard from “many officers” who thought that it was having an actively “deleterious effect”. “People are not promoted according to their talents. If they are, it is despite, not because of, the promotion process.” No wonder then, that the quality at the top is so often regarded within the ranks as low.

Perhaps the most important reason that mediocre officers can thrive at the Met is because there is no outside competition policing for any job. “It is a single pipeline,” says Spencer. “Someone retires, someone else gets sucked up through the system.”

Even in HR, or logistics, where the force might obviously benefit from outside expertise, those in charge carry warrant cards. The consequences are shocking. Fridges containing forensic evidence from rape cases are iced up, bursting open and have to be taped shut. Perhaps a supermarket executive might have better ideas about cold storage. “But they just don’t have diversity of expertise,” says Spencer. “Everyone has come through the Met.”

The same goes for senior ranks. “They should open the promotion system to total outsiders,” he says. “You demonstrate impressive leadership, they’d teach you operational policing. It’s totally doable.”

Instead, the closed shop leads to networks of mediocrity, says Lady Casey, as those in situ influence “who gets promoted or handed prestigious jobs”. As one officer told her, it’s a “who-you-know culture”. It also leads, on occasion, to that sense of impunity. Specialist units like MO19, where the “blue cards” firearms qualifications come with huge status, are home to “some of the worst cultures, behaviours and practices identified by the review”.

Meanwhile, talented recruits are too often left to rot. “Inadequate management allows those who seek to do wrong to continue their activities and affect other officers,” notes Lady Casey. “It also seriously impedes the potential of good officers who are not given the support they need to progress in the organisation.”

The “two Mets” culture which has led to this crisis really began, says Baxter, around a decade ago. “It was then that front-line policing became very undervalued.” It was a trend entrenched as austerity and central command sought to control both operations and the diminishing budget. Then, from 2017, says Chaudhri, Cressida Dick arrived and, with a force demoralised by financial constraint, relentlessly and stubbornly defended her officers. “She just defended them at all costs. Whatever they did, she came out the next day and said: ‘I fully support my officers.’”

It may have won her the short-term loyalty of those within the Met, says Chaudhri, but the long-term consequences were, in her view, grave. “It means they now just have this inability to be self-critical,” says Chaudhri. “They always think they know best.”