The Casey Review

6 April 2023

The Casey Review

Missing the point.

By John Watson

Photo of John Watson

Findings of the Report

The final report of the Casey Review of the Metropolitan Police has certainly made people sit up.  And so it should.  While acknowledging that there are many excellent and committed officers, something which chimes with the experience of most of us, it paints a picture of an organisation which has got itself into a terrible mess.  Sloppiness is everywhere.  The misconduct process is not fit for purpose.  The vetting of officers is seriously ineffective.  There is a failure to deal properly with violence against women.  Prosecutions for sexual offences are lost because of a failure to produce adequate refrigeration for samples.  These are all examples of incompetence and mismanagement. More worrying are the findings of the laddish culture which permeates the organisation, a culture which makes racism acceptable, which tolerates sexual abuse and misconduct and which permits “banter” which if discovered in most organisations would lead to instant dismissal.  The report finds the police to be institutionally homophobic, sexist, misogynistic and racist[1] and, to explain what it means by “institutionally”, adopts the use made of the word by Sir William Macpherson in the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in relation to racism which was:

”The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

The need to change its culture is at the root of restoring the Met to a position of well-deserved public confidence.  Yes, there are other things that need to be done, for example improvements in the vetting system and the way in which misconduct is dealt with, more local decision-making and better organisation generally.  These are all important , but it is the culture which is the heart of it.  Introduce as many administrative reforms as you like; put in new training; disband and reform firearms and Parliamentary protection units with a re-vetting of all the officers; it is all perfectly good stuff but unless the culture is changed it will only scratch the surface.  How then do the recommendations made in the report attack this crucial task?

Recommendations of the Casey Review

The recommendations of the report are summarised at pages 20 to 25 which contain 16 specific proposals.  The reader can look at these for himself or herself by following the link provided[2] but, at the risk of over condensing, they fall into the following categories:

  • a call for the reform of the misconduct process (proposals 1 and 5) and the vetting system and oversight of specialist units (proposals 3 and 4);
  • proposals for dedicated systems to protect women and children (proposals 6 and 7) with training regarding the vulnerability of the latter;
  • the embedding and enforcement of the highest ethical standards (proposal 2) with the adoption of “policing by consent” as the guiding principle (proposal 8);
  • making apologies and the rebuilding of relationships with the community (proposal 9);
  • the reforms of stop and search (proposal 10) and improving the support given to frontline officers (proposal 11);
  • sundry changes in reporting, management and oversight including the introduction of a new borough-based approach to allow for transparency and challenge (proposal 12) the bringing in of expertise from outside (proposal 13) and a new policy board chaired by the Mayor (proposal 14); and
  • a system of reviews to monitor progress (proposals 15 and 16).

Moving the deckchairs

All those proposals, taken on their own, may be very sensible but what is less clear is how they address the underlying cultural malaise.  Talk about embedding the highest ethical standards or emphasising policing by consent is all very well for a mission statement but will mission statements, training and slide presentations about ethics really change the atmosphere in the police canteen?  The changes in governance may be all very worthy but will the new system deliver more than the old?  To be sure, the proposals on dealing with misconduct and vetting seem to make important and overdue practical changes but will the morale of the force really be altered by the sanctions imposed on those who break the rules? Surely not.  And suppose all this fails?  What is recommended then?  The report has its answer to that:

If sufficient progress is not being made at the points of further review, more radical, structural options, such as dividing up the Met into national, specialist and London responsibilities, should be considered to ensure the service to Londoners is prioritised.[3]

In other words move the deckchairs around deck and hope for the best.  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

The worry is then that the recommended package will not solve the cultural problems which still afflict the Met 24 years after they were identified in the report of Sir William Macpherson on the Stephen Lawrence case and that in 10 years time we will be looking at all this again, facing the same problems and still wondering what on earth to do about it.  So if the proposals in the report do not cut it, what should be done instead?  How do you alter the culture of a large organisation which has become toxic?  Let us back up for a moment and see if there is anything which the Casey Review has missed.

One of the dangers with papers of this length, and the report runs to over 300 pages, is that the ordering of ideas needed to make them intelligible results in one or more elephants in the room being missed.  That seems to be what has happened here and the names of the elephants are “staff profile” and “staff flow”.  Both are essential to the effecting of cultural change and neither is addressed, or at least properly addressed, by the report.

Staff profile and flow

As to the first of them, the report does, of course, follow the contemporary fashion by addressing the questions of staff diversity, the preponderance of male officers, the under-representation of minorities; I will comment on these areas in a moment but where, oh where, are the tables discussing the educational attainments of officers, their fitness levels, their social backgrounds and all the other things which go to the service they can be expected to provide? And yet if you talk to the leaders of any organisation, commercial or otherwise, tasked with challenging objectives you will hear them talk about how they structure their team to meet those objectives, what qualities are sought and where they are found, how the skills of people with different backgrounds augment each other, and how the disparate elements are welded into a single culture.  Where does the report analyse things in these terms?  It doesn’t and that is its failure.

So let us go back to the very beginning.  It is accepted in the report[4], and I am sure this is right, that

“most of the people, both police staff and officers that [the authors of the Review] met during the Review joined policing with a strong sense of moral purpose.”

That is a commitment to the public good buttressed by the courage to run towards danger rather than away from it.  Yet after these auspicious beginnings officers find themselves balked and weighed down by the culture, by a “laddishness” quite at odds with what is regarded as acceptable in the community at large, by a defensiveness which prevents lessons being learned from what goes wrong.  How many of them must long for this to be challenged while knowing full well that it is too ingrained for them to do much about it themselves?

Very well then, the question must be how to introduce that level of challenge and the answer to this is surely obvious.  It is not something which can be done externally by reports, mission statements, and the like.  It is not something which can be achieved solely through training.  Training certainly has a place but it is not enough.  If you want to challenge the ethos of an organisation you need to make changes to the workforce to ensure that at all levels it contains people capable of mounting and sustaining that challenge.  What then are the characteristics of the recruits who might act as the catalysts for change in the police?

The first requirement is that they should be confident of themselves, not just principled and energetic but also with the type of background that encourages speaking out and challenging what is wrong.  It would be incorrect to suggest that the necessary confidence is restricted to those of any particular educational attainment or social class.  It isn’t.  This sort of strength is very individual and can exist anywhere.  Still, if higher education in  academic subjects has any value in a professional context it must be that it hones the willingness to challenge and widens the perspective as to how change might be achieved and the same can probably be said for middle class idealism.  On this basis one might expect that across the board  those who come  into policing with non-policing degrees will make a particularly strong contribution to the process of reform.

But there is another point here and it is a telling one.  People challenge institutions more if they are not dependent on them.  It is far easier to make oneself objectionable by protesting at bad practice if there are other career options available if things go badly wrong; here again one might expect more pressure for cultural change from those who have a degree in something other than policing.

The Casey Review does not focus on the issue of recruitment save in the context of diversity but an increase in the proportion of recruits with degrees unconnected with policing would give a real prospect of cultural change – much more than training, mission statements and the like.  And, of course, you would expect that to be the case.  As has been said above, talk to any manager of a big driven organisation and they will tell you that the strongest teams, those really capable of changing things are those which come from  a diverse collection of disciplines.  If that is true for investment banks why wouldn’t it be true for the Metropolitan Police?

Attracting the general graduate

Now it is all very well to talk about increasing the proportion of  graduates with general degree but that only works if those graduates are interested in a police career.  How does one make it attractive to them?  How does one persuade young masters of the classics, the sciences or the arts, to abandon visions of success in academia or the professions and to go for policing instead?

There is one thing that would certainly not work.  Advocates for bringing top graduates into the police often cite the military as an example and suggest the introduction of a separate officer cadre.  That wouldn’t fit the structure of policing because the responsibilities of a police constable involve giving him or her an independent command.  The constable on the street has to make quick and difficult decisions using considerable judgement and discretion.  That is a far cry from the mere following of guidance or orders.

How then do we attract the young ambitious graduate?  The first thing is to respect qualifications by offering a shortened period of training.  That is already done under the Degree Holder Entry Program which specifies a 2 year training period for those with general degrees against the three years required for the non-graduate.  Of the 2975 officers who joined Met in the period from 1 April 2022 to 28 February 2023, 42 came through Police Now, a charity which works with the Met in recruiting non-police graduates with 2.1 degrees.  It may be that further recruitment of general graduates is concealed in the Direct Recruitment figure shown at table 8 of the Met’s February Workforce Data Report.

Then, second, there need to be good prospects of quick internal promotion if performance justifies it.  One of the most depressing paragraphs of the Review is at paragraph 3.7 where it says:

We heard that the promotion system was not fair or based on merit.  Those who succeeded tended to be those who were good at ‘working the system’, or who were good at passing tests.  This rewards the ability to learn the ‘right’ answers rather than recognising leadership qualities, track record or achievement in the job.

What a terrible turn off for any young ambitious officer whether well qualified academically or not.  Improvement in the promotion system must be high on the list of reforms.  It is however not to be found among the recommendations summarised above.

Third, the career should be made attractive to those who expect to go on to do something else.  The army has success here with its programme of short service commissions which can run for as little as three years.  Their website describes it as:

for those who do not wish to commit to a long career but would like to benefit from the high quality training and exceptional experience available to young officers.

And that gives the recruits a two-way bet.  If it suits them they can continue with a career of soldiering.  Alternatively they will have picked up character-forming experience which employers in other fields will value.  Why should similar opportunities not be available to the police recruit?  The job of the police constable is just as interesting and demanding as that of a junior army officer.  The experience is as character forming.  And yet the boardrooms of Britain, save perhaps those of security firms, are not full of those whose early careers included a brief spell in the police.  Why not?  Is it because too few officers have degrees unconnected with policing?  Is it just not something which has happened in the past? If the latter, should someone be talking to large institutional employers to explain to them what they are missing?

Accepting a high level of leavers is of course expensive.  For a strategy of bringing in more academic high-flyers to succeed, one would have to bring in quite a few of them.  If the culture is to be changed, there must be sufficient challengers within the workforce to have the catalytic effect of making the workforce as a whole believe that change is possible and attainable.  And if many of those officers are going to leave after a relatively short career there is an inevitable wastage of training and experience.  That is certainly a cost for any organisation which is dependent on expertise but it is one which is regarded as inevitable elsewhere.  Look at the professions, for example.  They work on the basis that many of those they train will leave them and indeed their structures are designed on that basis.  Yet rather than worrying about the waste, they look at the advantages and use their alumni to act as ambassadors connecting them with the sectors which they serve.  A larger number of ex-policeman in society generally could only improve communications between the force and the public.

For all these reasons one of the recommendations which should have been in the report is an acceptance of the wastage implicit in early leaving.  It was not.

The matching approach to minorities

The report does, of course, touch on the subject of recruitment, when it talks about the extent to which the proportion of women, minorities and those with less usual sexual orientations in the police is less than the proportion which they represent in the public as a whole.  This is seen as an issue, paragraph 9.3.2 identifying it as follows:

Diversity within the workforce: mentioned in Macpherson, the Met continues to fall far short of being representative of London’s Black, Asian and ethnic minority men and women throughout the ranks.  If recruitment continues on its current trajectory, it will take at least another forty years to reach an officer cadre which is 46% Black, Asian, and ethnic minority.  The key issue here is that nothing that the Met has done or is currently planning to do that will change this position in the near future.

It is not an issue.  It is a distraction.  The matching of minority proportions in the police with those in the community has little to justify it other than political correctness.  Paragraph 9.1 of the Review certainly gives good reasons why there should be representatives of diverse groups on the force.  It ensures that there is good communication with those groups and that their needs are understood and also it allows the Met to recruit the most talented officers from all backgrounds.  It would be hard to quarrel with any of this but the arguments here are for adequate representation and not proportional representation.  If there are a hundred officers from a particular community and that number is sufficient to maintain good contact and to give talented members of that community comfort that they will be welcomed as police officers why should it be a problem that this is less than the 200 officers which would give a proportion matching the proportion of the public?  It simply isn’t clear and, damagingly, this shibboleth takes the focus away from the proper basis of recruitment which is to accept the best recruits regardless of whether they come from a diverse group or not.

The Casey Review

The purpose of the Casey Review was:

to undertake a review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service and make recommendations on the actions required.

and its scope was very broad in terms of the recommendations it should make.  Having identified cultural issues it is very surprising that it did not undertake an analysis of how officers are recruited and the levels of churn among personnel.  It is in augmenting the stream of bright independently-minded young officers that the solution to the cultural issues facing the force lie.  They will be an agent for change.  They will bring in fresh air.  That is where those responsible for London’s policing should now turn their attention.

[1] Paras 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3

[2] For report follow link

[3] Page 25

[4] Paragraph 3.7

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