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Next Met Police Commissioner must be given a chance to succeed

My latest Scotsman column was published on Monday 28th February. Here it is below....

I have never met Cressida Dick but I know a good number of people who have. Without exception, they describe her as an outstanding leader and a warm, approachable human being.

Given her professional background, she had to be outstanding. Joining the Met in the early 80s as a slightly built female graduate, it was always going to be hard.

Violence, misogyny and racism was a whole lot worse then than today. It must have been tough going for young Cressida, but time and again she proved herself.

No one, not even from these early days, has a bad word from her. In the sometimes cynical world of policing that is highly unusual and speaks volumes.

Few officers would have survived being in charge of operation that led to shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by police in 2005.

Her appointment as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was welcomed not just because she was the first woman to hold the post, but because she was eminently well-qualified.

Now she has joined the list of Commissioners and senior officers forced from office. Ironically her fall seems to have been the result of a toxic canteen culture, the seeds of which were sewn long before she took office.

It makes you wonder whether the job, as presently configured, is do-able at all.

The first problem is dual accountability to the Home Secretary and London’s Mayor. ‘One servant, two guvners’ is tricky. Worse still when one or both are prone to political grandstanding.

But it’s the sheer breadth and depth of the Met’s responsibility that makes the job so problematic. Not only is there a sprawling metropolis of nearly ten million souls, but countless pressure groups and vested interests seeking to influence and criticise. Then there are national responsibilities: counter-terrorism, VIP and royalty protection, and the Palace of Westminster.

We depend on the Met in crucial areas like terrorism. And, like it or not, the Met is a bellwether for British policing. It is in the interests of UK policing that the Met is healthy and successful.

The search is now on for the next Commissioner and, despite the pitfalls, there will be many contenders. There are some good Chief Constables in the UK, we have a good one here in Scotland.

But before the next Commissioner takes on this troubled role, it’s past time to take a hard look at policing structures.

It’s 60 years exactly since the last Royal Commission on Policing reported. Chaired by the formidable Henry Willink, its remit was wide. In just two years, the Commission brought forward extensive recommendations on force mergers, systems of oversight, rank structures, pay and conditions, and more.

It was a seminal report that shaped the modern police service, but there has been little meaningful reform in England & Wales since.

In Scotland, we are in a better position. Though our police reforms of ten years ago were rushed, they did address some pressing 21st-century issues and provided a platform for necessary changes.

It is time England and Wales grasped the nettle and implemented the same root-and-branch review of policing that was undertaken 60 years ago.

Perhaps then the new Commissioner of the Met will at least have a fighting chance of success.

My Scotsman column is also available here.

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