The Met police is under the spotlight again, but this time, it’s because its chief Sir Mark Rowley has openly accused the government of standing in the way of getting rid of abusive officers within the force.
Rowley, who became the Met commissioner last September, has made it his mission to clear up the force. He has started one of the biggest overhauls, promising to get rid of hundreds of individuals who have committed wrongdoing. But he’s now claiming the process is slowed down by bureaucracy.
Currently, independent lawyers known as “legally qualified chairs” take the final decision on whether to sack or suspend an officer. Rowley said they were “fundamentally soft”, and that it would be better if it was police chiefs having the power to dismiss officers.
More than 200 officers accused of wrongdoing are on full pay, and the process of expelling them from the Met could take years. Rowley talked about “hundreds of officers who would have been sacked by officer-chaired panels but are still serving across the country”.
The commissioner is waiting on a government review of this dismissal system that’s been delayed for months. He also talked about skewed results under the current system, with white officers sacked at half the rate as black and ethnic-minority ones.
The system has failed the public before, with many instances of wrongdoing going unpunished – often with tragic results. The case of Wayne Couzens, the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard, shocked the country two years ago. Before committing the crime, Couzens had faced several allegations of indecent exposure that were not followed up.
But Rowley still claims that police chiefs would be better at cleaning up the force than independent lawyers. He made the point that no business would want to keep employing people knowing they had breached its standards, which is exactly what’s happening with some of the Met officers.
Rowley’s mission of bridging the trust gap between the police and the public won’t succeed unless the country perceives sweeping change to be underway. If ministers are seen as hindering the process, it will become a government’s problem too.