By: Pramod Thomas
BRITAIN’s police force is under unprecedented pressure to reform after the conviction of officers for murder and rape, alongside evidence of widespread sexism and misogyny in its ranks.
London’s Metropolitan Police has been hardest hit: After years of saying serious misconduct cases were isolated incidents, it now says it must change its culture.
In the last year, an officer was convicted of murdering and raping a woman he abducted using his police badge, another was jailed for more than 30 years for 24 rapes and two officers were sacked for sharing photos of two murdered sisters.
The crimes turned a focus onto the broader work culture, with a separate investigation into officers at a central London police station finding a culture of bullying, racial discrimination, misogyny and sexual harassment.
“We have failed and I’m sorry,” Mark Rowley, the Met’s new chief and Britain’s most senior officer, said in January.
Rowley took over from Cressida Dick who was pushed out in February 2022 after London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said he did not believe she would root out the racism and sexism in the force.
The task he faces is significant. A team has been set up to review the force’s handling of previously closed complaints made against nearly 1,100 officers and staff over the last decade, complaints that range from the use of inappropriate language to allegations of sexual assault.
Rowley has said that the process to rid the force of corrupt officers will not be rapid as it takes time for cases to go to court, and that more “painful” stories are likely to emerge.
Police figures show a record number of allegations of sexual offences were made against police in 2021, with 190 of the 251 total coming internally from colleagues or staff.
Diana Johnson, an opposition Labour lawmaker who chairs parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, said in January that the police were guilty of institutional sexism.
For those trying to address the issue, like Detective Superintendent Miles Ockwell who has championed diversity throughout his 20-year career and instigated British police’s involvement with the UN’s HeForShe gender equality programme in 2017, the situation is desperate.
He wants the police to be angry about the revelations. “But to channel that anger in a positive way … to say this is unacceptable,” Ockwell told Reuters.
Those police officers who are dismayed by the current situation have a lot to be angry about.
Among the most shocking revelations regarding the culture of the police came from an investigation that showed officers exchanging offensive messages in which they discussed sexually assaulting their female colleagues and beating women.
“I would happily rape you”, one officer wrote to a colleague, while they referred to another male constable as “mcrapey raperson” due to a rumour he liked to bring women back to the police station for sex, the investigation found.
According to an official report, officers had passed off the conversations as ‘banter’. Two officers were sacked last year.
A police watchdog report last November cited a survey of 11,000 officers and staff as showing “an alarming number” faced “appalling behaviour by male colleagues”.
Among its findings were male officers stopping cars driven by women they regarded as pretty in a practice they called “booty patrol”, senior officers pestering junior ranked women for sex and officers watching pornography at work.
“We concluded that far too many women had, at some stage in their career, experienced unwanted sexual behaviour towards them,” the report said, finding major problems in the vetting of officers and how complaints of misogyny were dealt with.
England and Wales now has more than 50,000 female police officers, almost 35 per cent of the total, and there are more women in senior leadership roles. But some are having second thoughts.
Detective Inspector Frankie Westoby, chair of the Women’s Network for Hertfordshire Police, north of London, wrote in October that two to three women went to her every week looking for support, over an array of issues: “If things don’t change, policing will lose more women.”
Britain’s home secretary Suella Braverman has told police chiefs that those ill-suited need to be “weeded out, and quickly”.
College of Policing figures show 257 officers were dismissed in the year to March 2021, broadly in keeping with recent years, but up from the 70 sacked in 2017-18.