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Has anything changed in the Metropolitan Police three years on from Sarah Everard’s murder?

The anniversary of Sarah Everard’s murder has recently passed and three years on from this tragic event the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has reformed its ways? Sarah Everard’s murder shocked the nation, when Wayne Couzens, an off-duty police officer raped and murdered the 33-year-old. This devastating incident sparked major inquiries into the functionality of the Metropolitan Police and how a service aimed at keeping the public safe could, in reality, be causing harm. There have been queries surrounding the competence of the police since 2021, marked by the Casey review, where it was found that the MPS was “institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic”. So, what has caused these fundamental issues in a service that is supposed to be keeping the country safe? And has this damning report paved the way for change in the MPS?

With public confidence in the police falling to an all-time low of 49% in March 2022, according to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime public attitudes survey, it is important to understand where the police are going wrong in the public’s eyes. The causes for the problems highlighted in the Casey report are multifaceted. One of the major issues pointed out by the inquiry is that frontline policing has been deprioritised due to a decade of austerity. While recent years have seen a slow increase in police funding, there was a steep decline between 2011 to 2015 which led to a decrease of 20% in real terms since 2010, according to VOXEU. This has resulted in the closure of 600 out of 900 police stations in England. So, although funding is now increasing, this dip seriously impacted the police. Although funding has been a real issue for the MPS, it cannot solely be blamed as the culprit for an unfit service. Recruitment and the type of screening that the police are conducting when hiring officers are also major concerns. There has been a huge effort to recruit more police officers, and number of trainees has surged exponentially. However, according to the Institute for Government, this is placing a large strain on the MPS, as their vetting process cannot keep up with the demand, nor can senior officers train new recruits. Therefore, the vetting processes are not vigorous enough, which begs the question of whether they are hiring more damaging personalities like Wayne Couzens. Finally, the culture within the MPS and the internal leadership could be major causes of the problematic behaviour being seen within the MPS. Promoting a strong sense of workplace culture has not been a priority within the MPS, and this has led to an institutionalisation of racist, homophobic and sexist traditions. In order to tackle these problems, the Casey review recommended having an independent team run the misconduct system and having more serious crackdowns on these cultural behaviours. These issues have all led to the MPS being unable to “police with consent”, as their key principle suggests they should be. However, years on from this report, has there been a visible change from the MPS?

Since the Casey report, the MPS has laid out a turnaround strategy, that was revealed in 2023. The motto of this plan is “more trust, less crime and high standards”. 9 principles have been laid out by this plan:

1) To have the strongest ever neighbourhood policing

2) To strengthen its work in public protection and safeguarding

3) To provide a compassionate and effective service to victims and other members of the public

4) To take a proactive approach to reduce crime

5) To raise standards and show communities it cares and respects them

6) To set the frontline up to succeed and build a strong foundation to stabilise and underpin its delivery

7) To invest in its people by modernising its learning offer, including developing a strong cohort of leaders

8) To be relentlessly data-driven and evidence-based in delivery

9) To innovate how it works, make the most efficient use of resources and reinvest where it matters most

However, this plan seems as though the recommendations made by the Casey review have fallen on deaf ears. It does not mention the culture within its system or how they will deal with issues arising from its vetting problems. This seems like a small attempt at clawing back trust within the public, but not far enough to have a complete revamp of policing in the UK.

So, what has happened in terms of crime rates and the efficiency of the police in the UK? The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) indicated an estimated 8.5 million offences in the year ending September 2023. This does not give a statistically different crime rate from 2022 but it does follow a downward trend in crimes since the COVID-19 pandemic. Crime is now 17% lower than the year ending March 2020. But just because crime rates are falling, does that mean that the police are being effective in their roles? Less criminals could be a result of the pandemic. Although, this is a positive sign, the public satisfaction with the MPS speaks a different story. Ipsos conducted a poll of around 2000 adults in 2023, with a split between white and ethnic minority participants. They found that there was a major discrepancy between the white and the ethnic minority participants’ confidence in being treated fairly by the police, especially if they were being stopped and searched. 50% of white participants said they believed they would be treated fairly in the circumstance of being stopped and searched, but only 35% of ethnic minorities believed the same. So, this does indicate major problems with public perceptions of the police especially when it comes to racialisation.

Overall, the police in the UK have not been providing a fair service that is benefitting the public and keeping them safe. Following the shocking events of Sarah Everard’s murder, the MPS have been forced to take a long hard look at themselves and their culture. However, it seems that the public does not believe that this has reversed their dissatisfaction. There seem to be many more steps needed to reach “policing by consent”.

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