Regaining our Trust in the Police

Kaitlin Dryburgh

The past couple years has really put the image of the police force through the wringer and has tested the public’s ability to put their trust in the police. Many of the most high-profile controversial cases of a police officer failing to protect the public has centred around one police force in particular, the Metropolitan. Unfortunately, although we do have a separate police force to that in England and Wales, it cannot be underestimated the damage that can be done to the face of policing by other forces in the UK.

The start of this week was a dark day for policing in the UK, the news that serving police officer David Carrick pled guilty to dozens of rape and sexual offences spanning 20 years hit the headlines, as a court order was finally removed. It’s another nail in the coffin of the Met’s high profile track record of hiring criminals. During lockdown we had the horrific murder of Sarah Everard by another serving Met officer, who coincidently worked in the same unit as David Carrick, as well as the handling of the murders of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, which resulted in two officers being jailed, an officer being found guilty of being a member of a terrorist group and an inquiry’s findings showing that prejudices concerning gay men at the Met allowed for a serial killer to go on to kill three more victims undetected. This is all within a two-year period. It’s an understatement to say they have some work to do. I agree the first step is to ensure those currently employed are safe to work but after that they need an over-haul.

The Met has always been plagued with issues, although perhaps not as bad as of late, and it would be unfair to say they represent the rest of England, Wales and Scotland, yet it is without a doubt giving the overall confidence in policing a good knocking. Most of the emphasis has been on women and girls and they’re diminishing trust in police, and although this may be more prominent, this is definitely effecting everyone.

Wherever you are in the UK, the ability of the police to do an efficient job is directly linked to the public’s consent and trust in them. A survey last year found that more young people living in the UK are not confident in the police’s ability to deal with local crime than are, and that consent and trust are almost at all-time lows. With the most recent abhorrent case coming to light, there has been a fresh condemnation from Westminster to “push for Improvement”, but also a warning from Suella Braverman that this might not be the last shocking story we see creeping out from the Met while they work on getting rid of the rot they still employ.

Although I take comfort knowing that Police Scotland doesn’t enjoy the same notoriety as the Met, it is no secret that they too have some issues to work out, both in the way that they deal with the public and the working culture in some of their units.

Almost a year ago we saw the force pay out almost £1 million in compensation to an ex-officer in the Edinburgh firearms unit who successfully proved that she worked in a misogynistic “boys club” culture. The employment tribunal found that Rhona Malone had been victimised, to add fuel to the fire the tribunal found that senior police officers who gave evidence in the tribunal were dishonest and not of “good” character. These of course are still the officers in whom we have to place our trust.

Of a similar strand a whistle-blower from Moray again found that the unit she worked at had a culture of bullying and of being a “boys club”. This was directed at her after she tried to report an ex-partner, also a police officer, for domestic abuse. The abuse became so bad that she unfortunately made the hard decision to step away from her job. What’s becoming clear is there is a pattern of misogynist working conditions in some units. This is most definitely not the majority, yet in every case there is a willingness from those higher up wanting to cover this up or dismiss any wrong doing.

Going forward we’ll have to see how Police Scotland decide to handle the arrest of a 35 year old officer after the alleged rape of a colleague at the Scottish Police College. Very little details have been released but this could be another downfall of the Police Force to vet the officers they employ. The working environment within the Police should be the safest and most supportive around for everyone: any dangers shouldn’t be from colleagues but the criminals on the street.

The question of accountability rears its head, who are the police accountable to? Is there enough accountability to the community they serve? Is it easy for the “wrong’uns” in the police to manipulate the system and get away with abuse?

This question is personified in the case of Sheku Baugh, a black man who was rightfully arrested after causing concern in the community after reports came in that he was wielding a knife in public, and a knife was later found near him. Yet he was wrongfully killed, the lethal force that was used to restrain him was decided upon after it was alleged Sheku stamped on an officer as she lay on the ground. However, neither eyewitness statements nor forensic evidence support that narrative – currently there is no proof that it ever happened. So the question remains, are the officers lying to cover up a lethal mistake they made?

We’ve had a lot of campaigns as well as specific phrases shoved in our faces that paints the picture of still having the local police officer on the beat, but we know that’s not true. I’m not saying that by changing the way we structure policing it will get rid of the boys club culture, as I don’t think that’s true either. They need to change the way they handle complaints and take them seriously without burying their heads in the sand. They need to stamp down on the sexist and racist attitudes and make it clear this is not acceptable. They need to fix themselves first, but they do need to restore public trust. Centralised policing isn’t a bad idea for a country the size of Scotland yet it may have gone too far in completely eradicating the community element and the ability for policing to differ in conjunction with what the local area needs. If local democracy was applied to Police Scotland, where local citizens, businesses and services in the area were able to influence how policing was undertaken around them, it would build communication and consent in both alike. If we could establish local Policing Councils in different areas of Scotland working closely with a functional care service we could help make policing more efficient and transparent, helping to create trust.

Police do an incredible job, often running towards danger as we all run away, making snap decisions in order to help us. They aren’t paid what they deserve and work selflessly long hours, however as per usual it’s a bad few who ruin it for everyone. Police Scotland, as well as the other police forces in the UK, need to seriously regain the trust they have lost, currently the right things are being said but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, so we’ll wait to see what changes.

4 thoughts on “Regaining our Trust in the Police”

  1. David Henderson

    Your article is built on the assumption that things are somehow ‘better’ in Scotland. I wonder what evidence there is for this? It’s possible that we just have less scrutiny and oversight than elsewhere and no robust mechanisms to record or challenge policing behaviours. We also have the additionally Scottish challenge of sectarianism (there have been pay outs on this front too). The notion that it’s a ‘few bad apples’ hides the challenge of embedded misogyny, racism etc served by a culture of secrecy. There are other debates to be looked at, the ‘defund’ the police movement in the US, the approaches of Violence Reduction Unit etch. And what kind of policing do we want and what outcomes do we expect?

  2. David Henderson

    We should, I think, also acknowledge that there is a spectrum of behaviour here. Misogyny yes. But it’s a disservice to those brave women who have managed to tell their stories if we don’t name the behaviour for what it is – it’s violence towards women.

  3. Ian Davidson

    Patrick Cockburn, i, today, on poor quality of police investigations in to rape + other serious crimes in England. I confess that I supported the creation of Police Scotland but now think maybe the Scots Lib Dems were right to oppose it. Perhaps a move to three big forces: Strathclyde, Lothian/Borders, Highlands /NEast would have been suitable compromise between centralised command + local discretion? Movement of senior officers (e.g. Steve House) between Scotland + rUK inc Met is significant in terms of policing culture. Corruption (in widest moral sense) is constant danger with senior police, senior law officers, senior civil servants + politicians a potential toxic alliance. Scotland, esp auld reekie Presbyterians long suspected of “closed club” rules, well before Devilution!! (sic)

    1. Ian Davidson

      Note current reports of “secret inquiry” in to failure of child abuse inquiry to fully investigate alleged involvement of senior figures in Scottish legal establishment!

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