There is a deep-seated misogynistic culture within policing - here are 5 ways to start fixing it

How can policing regain the trust of women? Susannah Fish, former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, says a rethink is needed

Trust in policing, especially for women and girls from all communities, has never been so fragile (Graphic: Mark Hall / JPI)

Women’s safety is now front and centre of so many people’s minds after the horrific revelations of how Sarah Everard met her death at the hands of a serving police officer.

Trust in policing, especially for women and girls from all communities, has never been so fragile, and for many it’s completely shattered.  Policing in this country is based on consent and the Peelian principle of ‘by the people, for the people’, which in turn relies on trust and confidence in both individual offices and the police forces they are part of.

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Recognising the impact both for the public and within policing is the critical challenge which all those charged with protecting us now face, so that they do protect the lives of all women and girls rather than take their lives and ruin others.

There is a deep-seated misogynistic culture and behaviours within policing. This together with an inherent attraction to policing for those who enjoy exercising power over others, and a culture where challenging or reporting other’s behaviours is virtually non-existent, is a dangerous cocktail.

Feminist group Sisters Uncut protest outside the central criminal court as convicted killer and rapist, Wayne Couzens, is sentenced to a full life sentence.

Policing culture is also very defensive, feeling that they are under attack from everyone - from physically on the streets to being vilified by the press (and retired colleagues).

This has been exacerbated  by austerity and the reduction in the numbers of officers, salary freezes, and the genuine grievance that they are the bottom of the pile with no recognition for the amazing work they do, day in day out.

This is not just a challenge for the Metropolitan Police. This is a challenge for every police officer and every police force as well as the Government.

So, what can be done to improve matters?

Every force must adopt misogyny as a hate crime

Police leaders across the country need to clearly and consistently articulate their commitment to delivering real and sustainable change, acknowledging and understanding the everyday failures of policing for women and girls, and explicitly to those from marginalised communities, not just the high-profile disasters.

This must be supported by national and local strategies and implementation plans to deliver that change.

Every force must adopt misogyny as a hate crime (backed up by legislative change), with comprehensive internal training and external communications. 

This is not the solution, but it is a tangible and important start, and enables a different conversation to take place internally as well as starting to build trust and confidence with the public.

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Selection and vetting needs to change

Selection processes for police officers need to change and must explore behavioural traits, values, relationship with power, attitudes towards women, race, disability, LGBTQ+ and the intersectionality of multiple characteristics.

Vetting which fully explores online activity as well offline activity needs to be implemented, further supported by thorough regular re-vetting.

This is critical for officers who transfer between forces, given the College of Policing has identified a profile of officers who commit sexual misconduct and transferring forces is a key element of this profile.

A rethink on training and whistleblowing

Police officers need to have a duty imposed which requires them to report low level concerns about colleagues behaviour, which might not be criminal or even a breach of the code of conduct. 

Whistleblowing needs to be fundamentally rethought, especially in the context of the risk to the safety of whistle blowers.

All officers and support staff should be required to undergo specific training on sexual misconduct and to sign to say that they understand the professional boundaries with the public, colleagues, and their partners.

Officers who commit offences against their partners, colleagues, vulnerable victims should expect to be sacked and placed on the barred list, and so should those who collude and or turn a blind eye.

Investigate the perpetrators, not the victims

The investigation process should be turned on its head and victim care and support placed at its heart, with an emphasis on investigating the perpetrator, not the victim.

This may require a new service and therefore funding, and this needs to work throughout the Criminal Justice system, transforming the experience for victims of male violence, and especially police officer violence.

External, independent review by local reference groups of investigations by police into corrupt officers and domestic abuse should become routine and their feedback valued to help the investigative process and to build trust.

A Sarah Everard public inquiry

Violence against women and girls by men must be made a national priority alongside side others such as terrorism, with the resources to support it, and if policing is really going to be held accountable, learn the lessons and change we need a public enquiry into the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

This case is fundamentally about police misogyny as the failure to investigate the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence was fundamentally about institutional racism. 

Both the public and police need the equivalent of the Macpherson Enquiry if trust in policing is to grow.

Susannah Fish joined Nottinghamshire Police in 1986 as a Police Constable. Her career saw her work across uniform and detective roles in Nottinghamshire, the West Midlands, the Metropolitan Police, and nationally. She was appointed Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police until her retirement in 2017. She was awarded the OBE for services to policing in 2008 and the Queens Policing Medal for distinguished service in the Birthday Honours 2016. She has now established a consultancy, StarFish, working with a range of clients on transformational change, leadership and equality.

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