This article focuses on the independent review of the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) following the murder of Sarah Everard. Published on 21 March 2023, it has found systemic problems within the force, including institutional racism, misogyny, and homophobia. The report calls for "radical and urgent" changes to the Met's culture and practices, highlighting a culture of silence and a decline in whistleblowing reports. However, as it is highlighted in the article, it appears that the report is vague and does not include meaningful recommendations on how to empower officers and staff to safely report bad behavior and protect them from retaliation.
Following the sentencing, in September 2021, of a serving Metropolitan Police Service (Met) officer to whole life imprisonment for the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, and in the wake of several other instances of misconduct and corruption within the Met, then Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick QPM, commissioned an independent review to examine the standards of behavior and internal culture of the force.
In commissioning the Review, Dame Cressida said the Met recognized that Sarah Everard’s abduction, rape, and murder had prompted grave levels of public concern. She also referred to other deeply troubling incidents which were undermining public trust and confidence in the force. Dame Cressida stated that the Met acknowledged the intense public anxiety that was eroding the public's faith and trust in the force. She hoped that the Review would tackle challenging inquiries to enhance the Met's performance, foster a more robust organization, guarantee long-term enhancements to the quality of services rendered to London, and augment public confidence.
This independent review was carried out by Baroness Louise Casey, a public policy expert, and former senior civil servant, and published on 21st March 2023. While recognizing that the Met faced significant challenges outside of the force's control, including austerity, changes in crime patterns, and greater non-crime demand on services, the review was nonetheless scathing in its findings.
The report concluded that there are significant and systemic problems in how the force is run, including a failure to root out bad officers, develop and support good officers, and a lack of support to protect frontline officers in high-stress and dangerous situations. However, more concerningly, the report found evidence of institutional racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Perhaps central to what has allowed this culture to take root within the force is described within the report as “speaking up is not welcome”. It highlights a cultural expectation to keep your head down, look the other way, and tell senior officers what they want to hear as opposed to the reality of the situation.
What the report describes is a culture of silence, often understood by academics as the ‘blue wall of silence’, where wrongdoing is ignored, minimized, tolerated, and accepted as ‘banter’. Should a person speak out, they quickly learn that retaliation against themselves and their team follows, harming personal relationships, damaging career trajectories, and sowing discord in the trust between officers.
The report is explicit, such a culture supports wrongdoers and is underpinned by bullying, retaliation, and fear, whereby allowing racist, misogynist, homophobic, and other discriminatory attitudes to take hold and thrive. Neither the phenomena of the 'blue wall of silence', nor the retaliation for breaching it, are by any means unique to United Kingdom policing culture. Similar instances of institutionalized wrongdoing accompanied by silence are well documented within other countries, by example the USA Today investigation Behind the Blue Wall of Silence details instances of death threats, careers ruined, harassment, forced institutionalization, and dead rats, for those brave enough to expose wrongdoing including fabricating evidence, planting drugs, sexual assault, and violence including punching a handcuffed man in a wheelchair in the head.
The Casey report, therefore, exemplifies the requirement for robust and effective internal reporting systems within public bodies. This is not to recognize that much work has been done by the Met on establishing methods to facilitate disclosures of wrongdoing, however, unless these channels are accompanied by meaningful and effective forms of protection from retaliation, and a belief by the reporting party that action will be taken to address the wrongdoing, then reporting channels themselves are insubstantial in their aims.
This is perhaps evidenced by the fact the number of reports made to the Mets whistleblowing service has fallen by 23 percent since 2017, despite an increase in external reports. A total of 296 reports were made to the Met’s “Right Line” service in 2020/21 compared to 384 during 2017/18.
If we expect the UK's largest police force to tackle an ingrained and systematic culture of racism, bigotry, homophobia, and sexism, then it is essential that members of the force feel empowered to speak out against wrongdoing they not only witness but are subject to themselves. Local surveys of officers in 2021 found between 22% to 47% had experienced unwanted sexual advances or touching, sexism, and misogyny. Within recent months, a black officer reported being called “monkey” and bananas being put on his chair, while an officer of Asian descent describes being told he “smells of curry” and looked dirty. Similarly, the report details instances of homophobic language and discrimination being aired publicly in the police force without being challenged.
While Baroness Casey must be applauded for having the courage of her conviction in publishing findings and forcing the Met to confront the difficult truths as opposed to sweeping matters under the rug, it is perhaps here where the report somewhat misses an opportunity. The report makes a number of recommendations on how to challenge this culture and implement reform, however, relies on vague and broad terminology such as ensuring methods to “identify and root out unacceptable behaviour” or “embed and enforce the highest policing ethical values and standards” while stopping short of providing meaningful recommendations regarding the requirement for officers to implement internal policing policies through the development of a culture to speak out and empower those who would.
A cultural shift of this magnitude would never be an easy task, however, it should at all times be underpinned by officers and staff who feel able to safely call out and identify bad behavior that has for too long been ignored, normalized, and accepted as an institutional culture without the fear of being bullied, harassed, put at operational risk, or overlooked for promotion.
Whistleblowing internally has long been recognized as a principal method of an organization protecting its own interests and integrity from those who would cause damage to its trust and reputation, and nowhere is this more important than within public institutions which rely on the confidence of the public for their operation, including the police.
With an eye to these requirements to not only provide reporting routes, but routes that are effective, safe, and demonstrated to be virtuous and applauded by senior officers and organizational leaders, it will be interesting to monitor the progress of the Met in the coming months in instituting reform in these areas.
Should there be a failure to provide a foundation of reform on empowering officers to speak out against the force's own wrongdoing and to challenge poor behavior, then it is feared that any changes will be insufficient in fostering long-term cultural change, and may simply lead to a deeper culture of silence predicated on retaliation.
Download Baroness Louise Casey's report on the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) of March 2023:
Download the article in pdf format:
Joe Talora, Metropolitan Police internal whistleblowing falls (Guardian-series) 25 January 2022 https://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/19872963.metropolitan-police-internal-whistleblowing-falls/
Louise Casey, Interim Report on Misconduct in the Metropolitan Police Service (Met Police) October 2022 https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/met/about-us/baroness-casey-review/baroness-casey-review-interim-report-on-misconduct.pdf
Louise Casey, An independent review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service (Met Police) March 2023 https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/met/about-us/baroness-casey-review/update-march-2023/baroness-casey-review-march-2023.pdf
Vikram Dodd and Haroon Siddique, Sarah Everard murder: Wayne Couzens given whole-life sentence (The Guardian) 30 September 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/sep/30/sarah-everard-murder-wayne-couzens-whole-life-sentence
Conway, Steve, and Louise Westmarland. "The Blue Wall of Silence: Police Integrity and Corruption." THE SILENCE OF ORGANIZATIONS (2021): 105. https://books.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/heibooks/reader/download/592/592-3-94064-3-10-20210709.pdf#page=107
Sima Kotecha, (Twitter) 21 March 2023 https://twitter.com/sima_kotecha/status/1638084327475953670
Bluebook: Stephen Holden, The Case for Whistleblower Protection Reform in the Met, CORPORATE CRIME OBSERVATORY, (March 23, 2023), www.corporatecrime.co.uk/post/whistleblower-protection-met-2023
Harvard: Holden, S. (2023) ‘The Case for Whistleblower Protection Reform in the Met’. Corporate Crime Observatory. Available at: www.corporatecrime.co.uk/post/whistleblower-protection-met-2023
OSCOLA: Stephen Holden, ‘The Case for Whistleblower Protection Reform in the Met’, (Corporate Crime Observatory, 23 March 2023), www.corporatecrime.co.uk/post/whistleblower-protection-met-2023
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