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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

Baroness Casey report on the Met Police - A care leavers view - Part 1

Those that know me for my book 'Poems From a Runaway' may or may not have thought about my life going forward in regards to my experiences with the police. I'm soon to write a separate blog post completely on the consequences and anxieties of having things on your record that shouldn't of been there in the first place.

Sure, I was no angel as a young teen I fully accept that, there was once charge of common assault thought that simply should never have been on my record, but that's another story for another day. Nevertheless, I've had my fair share of controversial experiences with the police.

Some of you may of heard me talking about a case where some officers had sledgehammer into a squat I was living in fifteen years ago and lying in their statements to the police about finding cannabis in my pocket. I'd tape recorded the whole incident as well as dialling 999 which eventually after my charges were dropped it had led to the officers being charged with perverting the course of justice in crown court case spanning over three years because which had kept getting postponed for various reasons. Long story short they got 'not guilty' on a technicality at crown court but were soon later permanently suspended from the force after a misconduct hearing.

Surprisingly to me at the time part of the evidence had been a complaint I made at sixteen years old at Charing Cross police station after being outside of the homeless day centre I'd go to and was stopped and searched by two officers simply completely chancing it for an arrest. I was given the choice of the chief of the station taking it to a full blown complaint or that he simply could have a word with him to make sure that it didn't happen again, and so I'd chosen the latter. But my point is, I went through years in London being stopped and searched all of the time. OK so perhaps often finding myself at the protests and all of that didn't help and hands up - I did some pretty stupid things as a kid and sometimes I wonder if all of that simply followed me...who's been an interesting one that's for sure.

There are of course other experiences which have shaped my opinion of what can happen within police culture in other areas of the country too which I'll touch on somewhat. In part 2 I'll be reading the report for itself, but before I go on I'd like to mention my views on what seems to be a media push to skew the issues at large - and despite there being much justification to highlight racism, misogyny and homophobia I think that by not accepting the statements from the chief commissioner Mark Rowley that it needs to be accepted as 'toxicity' causes the whole concept of what is happening to automatically cancel out a whole host of other people in society that have been affected by the poorer side of policing.

I'm certainly not here to bash police officers, indeed between the time of bringing up the voice recorder in court until I'd attended the misconduct hearing to give evidence I'd been privileged to see a different side of the police in a setting and situation that I wouldn't usually find myself in.

I've also been fortunate to meet police officers that have a forward-thinking approach to developing the type of learning that it takes to be of service to the whole community without prejudice.

Those things such as an officer in training spending a weekend in the cells or working at homeless day centre for a couple of months whilst being open about the fact he's a police officer, or attending a talk from someone that highlight where the police had failed them before can make all of the difference between a police officer being truly connected and integrated within their communities to a level that serves the purpose most of us expect.

Of course, I've also met many decent police officers on the streets too, but that's not to say still that I've not had my fair share of experiences feeling completely disconnected with police officers for one reason or another still, which is to discredit to those that 'get it' so to speak, but as I'm sure I'm about to find out through this report it can all too easily completely undo any trust people have in the police. Not just in the Met, but nationwide in many other of Britain's forces, simply google 'police officer arrested' in your area and a glimpse of the scope of the problem might start to make you look deeper.

Unfortunately, I don't think the media ever really does a great job of highlighting the true scope of the problem for what it is in which it seems whether by natural will or a conspiracy to shut down the topic there's a leaning by a lot of people covering this to keep the issue contained to the three topics of racism, homophobia and misogyny, which does nothing for the many other people that are let down by police failings.

I think Mark Rowley is right to stand by his words because often such behaviours really do go hand in hand. The three issues continually brought up stem from a much deeper issue of human understanding, respect, connection, true respect for others and a real genuine passion to protect.

Much of it stems from the deeper problem, the narcissistic elements that if are leaking down from people in key positions or are simply left unchallenged at lower levels can easily become normal.

It can be difficult for any well-meaning person in any job to challenge the status quo if they are told by those in managerial positions not to rock the boat which is why I can only give my respect to those whistleblowers that have put themselves in the firing line against such cultures that are so sure of themselves.

There are many things that still shouldn't be happening to people regarding policing in the UK, and despite the Met being the focus here perhaps really it's just the catalyst for much needed policing reform.

I'm by no means denying that racism, misogyny and homophobia should be looked under a microscope to ensure a genuinely functioning healthy police service, but by challenging toxicity to it's very core we can ensure that those that are paid to protect the public are the one's that should be there. However cheesy it can sound, love really is the answer here. I'm not sure what it takes for some to feel it. Some are born with it and for others it might take a few near-death experiences or two but nevertheless something has to click in the people that find themselves in a police role yet in many ways disconnected with the general public.

Without such reform how will the police recruit the very people that could have truly excelled for them anyway.

It was nice to hear Rowley speak with an open mind about future recruiting of police officers too, in which I agree with his ethos of bringing in people that might not have a completely clear sheet in regards to being caught with a joint thirteen years ago or so.

Despite that approach needing to be taken with a keen eye on training people to defend against being corrupted, it's a wise move and will being in people with lived experience that can emphasise with their communities and look at certain crimes with an open mind, especially when it comes to serving police officers that can truly understand abuse, exploitation and similar crimes.

Perhaps the word 'crime' in itself does a great injustice to much of what needs changing. Linear words don't do a lot in regards to getting us to truly understand the devastating impacts to lives that any dysfunctional and toxic police cultures can bring. I'll be reading the report soon, and covering my views from my perspective. but just wanted to say - challenging toxicity at it's very core is the key here I believe. Let's not water it down and deny everybody else the chance the be included in regards to police reform.



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