When Robert Mark was appointed commissioner of the Metropolitan police in the 1970s he wryly suggested his ambition was to ensure the service arrested more criminals than it employed.
In the five years of his leadership (1972 to 1977) Mark’s success can be measured by the 50 criminal officers he put before a court, and the nearly 500 others who were swept out of the organisation as a result of his ruthless uncovering of the entrenched and institutionalised corruption which had protected them for too long.
Last week the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, put the current commissioner Cressida Dick on notice that the behaviour of her officers was a return to the bad old days of the 70s, when corruption went hand in hand with sexism and racism as an unchallenged cultural norm within Scotland Yard.
But Dick – appointed the first female commissioner in 2017 and, as our most prominent officer, the symbol for policing nationwide – never had the clarity of vision and purpose to follow Mark’s well documented example of how to effectively cleanse the rot from an organisation.
Perhaps this is because to tackle such systemic problems, you have to admit they exist in the first place, something Dick singularly failed to do. Instead as commissioner, she repeatedly employed the excuse that the horrific behaviour of Metropolitan police officers was the work of the odd “bad ’un”.
She never saw that the unchecked behaviour of multiple bad ’uns amounted to a culture of impunity, or that the repeated themes of violent misogyny, racism, homophobia and abuse of power in the wrongdoing of officers was a sign of a systemic problem.
Dick, who was put on warning by Khan that she had days or weeks to radically alter her stance on the Met’s deep-seated problems, was unable to join the dots.
In turbulent times, sound leadership, as Mark displayed, can force through radical change. But where he joined the Met police as an outsider, a senior officer from the Leicestershire constabulary, Dick is Met police through and through.
Known affectionately by some as Cress, she rose to senior roles having been one of the Met rank and file, is steeped in its values and sense of exceptionalism, and ultimately imbued with unerring loyalty to her force.
Scandal after scandal has rocked her organisation, and the public’s trust in her officers: the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving officer Wayne Couzens; the taking of photos by officers at the murder scene of two sisters; the misogyny and racism exhibited by officers at Charing Cross station, the threats to kill a female colleague made by one of those same officers; the sharing of disgusting pornography between colleagues on armed protection at Downing Street; and the signs of deep-rooted homophobia in the inept investigation into serial killer Stephen Port.
But after each one, Dick has simply apologised or retreated, apparently blind to what became glaringly obvious to others: something at the core of her organisation was dark and wrong.
Take her words when Couzens pleaded guilty to the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard; they were spoken from the perspective of someone whose greatest concern was the reputational damage to policing rather than a duty to protect the public.
“All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s truly dreadful crimes. Everyone in policing feels betrayed,” she said.
But for those outside the closed ranks of policing, it was the Met who had done the betraying and the public, in particular women, who were the betrayed.
Speaking after the revelations that two male officers had taken pictures of the scene where sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry lay fatally stabbed, Dick’s apology was so heavily qualified as to be no apology at all.
“If those officers’ actions have added to the family’s unimaginable distress then I apologise,” she said.
The mayor of London was true to his word, when on Thursday he withdrew his support, and she was forced to resign.
Her resignation came after a public statement on Thursday in which she claimed that she led Met “very well”; indeed she believed she had already transformed the force and maintained the trust of the rank and file.
As the search begins for her successor, there are lessons to learn in examining what Dick never did in the face of the repeated impropriety, abuse of power and at times criminal wrongdoing of some of her officers.
She should have publicly admitted there was a problem with the whole culture of the force, clearly identified the standards her officers must adhere to, and then made sure they were enforced ruthlessly and comprehensively, all the time.
Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner from 2009 to 2011, used to say “intrusive supervision” of his officers was required to ensure they upheld standards and avoided corrupt behaviour.
And after the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Sir Ian Blair, another former commissioner, said Met police officers needed to show real humility and willingness to change if they were to build new credibility with the public.
But that humility and willingness to change never came from Dick, who only recently was spending public money denying there was a systemic problem of prejudice within her organisation
Lawyers for the Met argued successfully in December at the inquest into the four young gay men murdered by Port that the issue of homophobic prejudice should not be considered by the jury. The lawyers said the mistakes were explained by “forgetfulness, indolence, lack of training, stress, overwork or inadequate supervision and management” – not prejudice.
Nothing in the Met’s behaviour, as it was rocked by more and more shocking revelations, suggested Dick ever understood the need for transparent and honest scrutiny of her force in order to tackle its cultural problems.
Instead, Dick’s approach was to play down events and keep things quiet. At gross misconduct disciplinary hearings for two of the Charing Cross officers, the men were given anonymity, even though one of them had been the subject of a criminal conviction for threatening to murder a female colleague. No transparency there.
Mark is remembered because he displayed an uncompromising boldness of thought that put the public first in his cleansing of the Met of the 1970s; he did not resort to sticking-plaster solutions when it was abundantly clear the requirement was major surgery.
These times called for similar decisiveness. But Dick never rose to the task, and, unendingly loyal to her beloved Met, was not willing to face the turbulence and resentments which would have been provoked by taking on the malign culture within it.
Where Dick failed, there is a desperate need now for someone, perhaps an individual with the dispassionate and fearless eye of an outsider, to succeed.