Not Just a Few ‘Bad Apples’: The Institutional Misogyny of the Met Police

Megan Baker is a second year undergraduate History student at King’s. She is particularly interested in women’s unpaid care responsibilities, maternity leave provision, reproductive rights and violence against women.

On 10 February 2022, the first woman to run the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, resigned over reports of institutional misogyny and racism within the police service. Despite weathering numerous crises and scandals under her almost five-year tenure as Commissioner, Dick’s resignation only came after she lost the confidence of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

After nine linked investigations into the Met Police uncovered bullying and discrimination within its rank, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published recommendations to change policing practices. In February 2022, the IOPC stated that “we believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’. In this vein, Operation Hotton, an investigation into abusive behaviour at the Charing Cross police station, uncovered messages which were “highly sexualised and/or violent and discriminatory, generally described as ‘banter’ by police officers”. The report also found numerous messages about rape and verbiage that could be considered misogynistic in WhatsApp and Facebook chat groups.

After the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 by Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer, it has become untenable to claim that these are the actions of just a few ‘bad apples’ in the Met Police rather than a prevailing culture of misogyny. Despite Couzens’ history of indecent exposure and his nickname of ‘the rapist’ within the service, he kept his job as a serving police officer. This case exposes a clear lack of vetting processes within the service. Moreover, the Met Police attracted even more criticism when a spokesperson suggested people should run away and call 999 if they feel in danger when approached by a lone person claiming to be an officer. As Couzens was a actual police officer, this advice would not have worked in Everard’s case. As a general rule, the burden of preventing these kinds of incidents from happening again should lie entirely with the Met Police – not with women.

Another scandal that followed Everard’s murder was the heavy-handed treatment of women at her vigil in March 2021. Despite the vigil remaining largely peaceful, there were instances where officers handcuffed women and removed them from crowds on Clapham Common in London. Refusing to resign and speaking in the officers’ defence, Dick stated at the time, “Quite rightly, as far as I can see, my team felt that this is now an unlawful gathering which poses a considerable risk to people’s health”. The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, said that twenty-six of them were assaulted at the vigil even though all the footage of officers being assaulted showed men rather than women. Sue Fish, who used to be in charge of the Nottinghamshire force, argued that the Met Police was “institutionally misogynistic in terms of their approach to the event.” She went on to say that “It is just so ingrained in the decision-making. They don’t realise they are doing it and why. They think they are making the best decision they can, but the basis on which they are making the decision is flawed.”

Male police officers outnumber females in the Met Police by more than 2.5 to 1. Furthermore, at least two-thirds of police officers across all ranks in England and Wales are male. This disproportion is hardly surprising given that police work only became accessible to women in 1975. Moreover, these statistics show that women are largely outnumbered on police forces around the country and are thus vulnerable to abuse. One female officer, speaking to The Guardian anonymously, asserted that there was a culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ within the force which she attributes to the high concentration of men within. She said, “It’s really quite traumatic because as female officers you have to wonder if you’re going to be believed, and if you’re going to be ostracised as a troublemaker if you come forward to complain.”

It is also important to recognise the intersection between institutionalised sexism and racism within the police service, as these identities are fundamentally linked. When two women of colour were murdered in a park in Wembley in July 2021, two Met Police officers were arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office for allegedly taking photos at the scene and then sharing them. Additionally, their mother Mina Smallman believed that their case was treated less urgently on the basis of their race.  Another six Met officers were investigated for receiving photos in a WhatsApp group and not reporting them. One female police officer has also asserted that there is a problem with ‘the fetishisation of women, in particular black women’ within the police.

The findings of institutionalised misogyny in the Met Police under Dick’s tenure have contributed to a huge loss of public faith in the police service. There needs to be a push to include more women in police services, including the Met Police. Crucially, there also needs to be a much more thorough vetting process of officers, a process which could have prevented officer Wayne Couzens from raping and murdering Sarah Everard. Finally, a comprehensive complaints system needs to be established which would enable whistleblowing within the ranks of the police.

Bibliography

‘Cressida Dick: Why is it so hard to fix the Met’s toxic culture?’, BBC News, 12 February 2022. ​​https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60352112

‘IOPC recommendations to tackle Met culture after investigation uncovers bullying and harassment in the ranks’, Independent Office for Police Conduct, 1 February 2022. https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/news/iopc-recommendations-tackle-met-culture-after-investigation-uncovers-bullying-and-harassment 

‘Sarah Everard: Met Police chief will not resign over vigil scenes’, BBC News, 14 March 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56389824 

‘Dame Cressida Dick: Crises and controversies of Met chief’, BBC News, 11 February 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-58514848 

Dominic Casciani, ‘Sarah Everard: What went wrong at the Clapham vigil?’, BBC News, 14 March 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56394344 

Maya Wolfe-Robinson and Vikram Dodd, ‘Institutional misogyny ‘erodes women’s trust in UK police’, The Guardian, 16 March 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/16/institutional-misogyny-erodes-womens-trust-in-uk-police 

[Featured image sourced from The Guardian.]

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