Metro One was the call sign of every Met Commissioner I served under. Since the unexpected and surprise resignation of Dame Cressida Dick, there has been a great deal written about her tenure as `Britain’s top cop`. Every Police Officer serving or retired, will recognise the title as it’s a phrase every one of them wants to hear on any operational event when they are finally stood down from their duty. I doubt that Dame Cressida ever wanted to hear the words that would end her policing career, and not in the manner that appears to have taken place.
On Friday 4th February she sent a message out to every Met Police officer and member of police staff, outlining her anger at recent unacceptable behaviour and poor conduct, and the damage it has had on public trust & confidence. This was a very strongly worded message and she made it abundantly clear that there was no room in the Met whilst she was Commissioner, for any type of hate or disrespect by members of her staff. The message urged everyone to do the right thing and not to let any behaviour or conduct, as we have seen reported in recent weeks, to continue. The phrase `not in our Met` was emphasised and the message concluded with a reminder of how serious this is and that everyone must take action to rebuild public trust and confidence.
She had been tasked to produce a report outlining her proposal to deal with these issues and give it to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for his approval. I have heard from other sources that the report was a sound proposal, and the Commissioner was dedicated to ensuring strong action was taken which was supported by the above message to all staff. An unprecedented method and message by a serving Commissioner and the most strongly worded directive I have seen within policing. It shocked experienced Police officers but was the right action to take and I have no doubt that she would have ensured it was followed to the letter if she had remained.
On Thursday 10th February she appeared on news radio and confirmed her intention to remain in the job and continue with her desire and commitment to improve the reputation of the Met. It would appear that while she was saying those words, Mr Khan had already decided he did not accept the submitted proposal & let it be known he had lost confidence in her. I have also heard that he wanted a greater say in some management decisions within the Met, which would clearly subvert her own authority and leadership and undermine her totally. If that is accurate then she would have been left with no choice but to resign which would explain the sudden and unexpected announcement on Thursday evening.
I have met her on a number of occasions, and I worked at Scotland yard when she was an assistant Commissioner in the 2000`s. She is very approachable and friendly and has that inherent ability of the best managers to remember people and conversations. I have been involved in Policing for over 40 years and I have never known a commissioner so well respected and liked by her officers and staff. Sir John Stevens is often referred to by many experienced officers as one of the best Commissioners the Met has ever had and Sir Hugh Orde as the best Commissioner the Met never had. They both had similar qualities that Dame Cressida has but she possessed and portrayed a much softer side in her dealings with colleagues and politicians. It may be the appearance of that softer side has played a small part in the approach Mr Khan has shown in his dealings with the Commissioner. You do not reach the level in policing she has without some inner toughness and that strength and resilience was shown last Thursday. She made the decision to resign, for the good of the service and for the job she clearly and demonstrably loved in every rank and role, for over 40 years. I know many who worked directly with and for her and they all speak in glowing terms about her leadership qualities and abilities as a Police officer.
It was her public portrayal that started and has led to her demise and the frequent criticism directed towards the Met but with the overall responsibility laid at her door. There are no doubts that some horrendous actions by serving officers have taken place during her time as Commissioner and she must take some responsibility for those. She had done this but many of the historic cases being quoted started during her predecessors’ time as Commissioner. It is no secret that when Dame Cressida took over in 2017, the Met had exceptionally low morale within its workforce and arguably one of the lowest in its history. Significant and devastating budget cuts had been imposed with little resistance or explanation by the then Commissioner who had been appointed by the Home secretary Theresa May. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe initiated a re organisation of the Met and had a quite different management style to many of his predecessors. Many highly regarded and experienced senior police officers left the Met during his time in charge. By the time Dame Cressida took over, the Met was largely regarded as being in dire need of stability and required someone who knew and understood the operational demands of policing London. Yet from the beginning her history and involvement around the death of Jean Charles De Menezes set the tone for the media reporting of her role as Met Commissioner. Any opportunity to criticise the Met and question the ability or competence of Dame Cressida was seized upon and in the last two years, officers under her command have provided many such opportunities.
Policing has significant problems to confront if they are to regain some of the trust & confidence that has understandably been lost, but I believe that in Dame Cressida they had the right person to do that. The insurmountable problem she faced was that she had become the story and once that happens there is only one solution for the person involved and the Police service, and that is for them to step aside. I think she realised this and for the good of the Metropolitan Police and London she made the heart- breaking decision to stand down.
As for her successor, I hope that sections of the media and Political parties allow whoever it is to manage the Met as a senior police officer should be allowed to do. The resignation of Dame Cressida showed the line between the Mayor holding the Commissioner to account and actually interfering with managing the Met was likely to be crossed. Whilst Mr Khan is mayor, mine might be an aspirational hope, but the next Commissioner has an exceptionally fine line to tread whilst answering to both the current mayor and the Home Secretary. I would also ask that the next Commissioner is allowed to start with a clean slate, judge them on policies or activities that happen whilst they are Commissioner and not hold them responsible for historic events.
I doubt Dame Cressida will ever be dismissed with thanks by the London mayor with any degree of sincerity, but within policing and most definitely within the Met, the gratitude and thanks to her will continue long after she finally walks out of the revolving doors at New Scotland Yard.