A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter was harassed with lewd suggestions from a man in his 30s as she walked home from school. Horrified, I said we should notify the police.
‘What’s the point?’ she replied. ‘They won’t do anything.’
It’s a stance taken by many of my female friends and, although it saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me.
This week, a report by Baroness Casey identified institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia in the Met. It also carried a warning that the force could be harbouring ‘many more’ predators like serial rapist David Carrick and Wayne Couzens, who was sentenced to life in 2021 for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
I spent 12 years in the police – as a detective and a public order inspector – before becoming a best-selling crime novelist. I worked with several officers later found to have committed harassment, fraud and sexual offences. So I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should have known they were offenders-in-waiting, but criminals are secretive by default.
I left the police in 2011 because I couldn’t see a way to be both a mother and a senior police officer. I didn’t have a sexist remark levelled at me in all my service, but I often felt women had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as the men
A retired colleague went to prison for possession of indecent images. It is horrific to discover that someone you trusted – someone you regularly shared a canteen table with – is capable of such things.
Confidence in the police is at an all-time low and women especially feel let down. We’re told that the problem is just ‘a few bad apples’, when it seems as though the whole barrel is rotting.
But I’m not giving up on my ex-colleagues just yet. Most officers I know feel betrayed by criminals such as Carrick and Couzens, and want to root out corruption just as we do. They also know they must urgently get their own house in order.
The findings of Baroness Casey’s report are damning. They reveal a culture that encourages corrupt and bigoted officers, with systems set up to fail. Rapists have walked free because broken freezers meant evidence was lost; a lack of resources has created unacceptable delays in forensic testing. Female officers have reported crude sexual pranks from colleagues; a Sikh officer’s beard was cut ‘because it was funny’.
The list is endless — all of it painting a picture of an organisation that doesn’t care about its own personnel, let alone the public it professes to protect.
It’s important to view the report within the context of the structure of UK policing. The 43 police forces in England and Wales work within the same legal framework, but operate as largely independent organisations, with separate strategies, priorities and policies.
Institutional problems stem from the systems and cultures within each force, and we should be wary of applying Baroness Casey’s findings to forces outside the Met. On the contrary, this is an opportunity to identify best practice elsewhere, and use it to change the Met’s culture from the outside in.
Recently, a female former Met officer revealed she was raped by David Carrick (pictured) two decades ago but never told bosses because she knew she would not be believed. Carrick went on to attack many more women
There is no quick fix for systemic rot, but for me, the answer starts with something simple. The police service desperately needs to foster women within its ranks to regain trust. Specifically, it needs the right women; after all, the Met’s former female commissioner, Cressida Dick, was unable to address her force’s toxic culture.
The right women are mostly (but not exclusively) in their 40s and younger. They are the women who came of age in today’s world; not the previous generation who spent decades having to behave like men in order to get on. We need women who assume equality as a right, not a bonus.
The young women I mentored when PCs are now chief inspectors and superintendents. They lead with a quiet confidence, bolstered by the other women around them. They are proud of the unique skills their gender brings and are upfront about challenges such as childcare — something I never felt able to be.
I left the police in 2011 because I couldn’t see a way to be both a mother and a senior police officer. I didn’t have a sexist remark levelled at me in all my service, but I often felt women had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as the men.
Yet women are the key to rebuilding public confidence. Studies show female officers are viewed as more trusted by their communities. They have good interpersonal skills and are better equipped emotionally to address violence against women, an area crying out for better policing.
I find that women and minority groups are more likely to call out predatory behaviour within the police, often because, sadly, they are so frequently the victims of it.
Doing the right thing is not easy or comfortable, but it’s this strength of character we need to change systemic problems. I was a newly promoted sergeant the first time I took action against a constable — he had made a racist remark — and I was shaking as I began disciplinary procedures.
I was supported by my senior officers and the PC received a written warning. Nowadays, I hope they would lose their job.
When I was an inspector, the number of women who reported inappropriate or offensive behaviour significantly outnumbered the men. These officers weren’t ‘snowflakes’ running to the boss, they had valid issues and weren’t afraid to raise them.
So, why weren’t the men complaining too? The easy — and unpalatable — answer is that the problem was the men themselves, but that was only sometimes true. Often, male officers said they ‘hadn’t noticed’, or ‘weren’t bothered’ by the offending behaviour, or felt it was easier to ignore it.
Women don’t have the luxury of ignoring misogyny, which is why handing them more power within the police is the way to put a stop to it; disrupting the ‘boys’ clubs’ identified in the Casey report.
Of course, it is also imperative that these complaints are listened to and acted upon.
The report also carried a warning that the force could be harbouring ‘many more’ predators like serial rapist David Carrick and Wayne Couzens (pictured), who was sentenced to life in 2021 for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard
Recently, a female former Met officer revealed she was raped by David Carrick two decades ago but never told bosses because she knew she would not be believed. Carrick went on to attack many more women.
An environment in which victims are afraid to speak encourages monsters to flourish. In order to prevent prejudiced behaviour, we have to prioritise the most vulnerable groups in society. To do that, police forces need to reflect the communities they represent.
Approximately 18 per cent of the UK population is made up of black, Asian, mixed or minority ethnic groups, yet our police service is still more than 90 per cent white.
The gender divide is relatively equal in the lower ranks, but the split is stark higher up the chain of command; only 30 per cent of chief officers in England and Wales are female.
Fixing these imbalances is a critical part of rebuilding trust, and it’s imperative we have robust vetting procedures at the recruitment stage.
When I joined the police in 1999, recruitment assessments were held over a weekend and included a night in the on-site bar. A candidate who had passed the paper vetting process could still be sent home after an ill-judged joke or unwanted overture when they believed they were ‘off-duty’.
Observation continued at training college, where Thursday discos were the highlight of the week — and the end of some careers.
Nowadays, much of the recruitment process has been replaced with online assessment. Most forces only spend about 45 minutes meeting applicants face-to-face, and many officers are trained solely on the front line, away from the classroom.
How well do forces know these recruits when they are sent out on our streets? Meanwhile, it’s no surprise the police struggle to recruit at all. You only need to open a paper to see why. When Boris Johnson was prime minister, he promised the police would have an extra 20,000 officers by March 2023 — which would bring officer numbers up to just above levels in 2010.
With four million people joining the UK population since then, the thin blue line is stretched to breaking point. Boris Johnson’s target has not yet been reached, and by December 2022, more than 1,800 of the newly recruited officers had already resigned.
Retention is a constant struggle when morale is low due to high workload, poor management and lack of support — elements identified in Baroness Casey’s report.
I didn’t get an exit interview on leaving the police. If I had, I would have said I didn’t really want to leave a career I loved, I was just exhausted by juggling three toddlers and a warrant card.
I’d like to think that female officers who reach this point now are shown a way to stay.
Because they are the force’s best chance of bringing about genuine reform — and regaining women’s trust.
- Clare Mackintosh’s book The Last Party, featuring DC Ffion Morgan, is out now.