Reflections on Policing the Metropolis and How Policing in the Future Can Change

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Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM reflected on his tenure as the 26th Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service and considered how policing in the future can change.

Sir Bernard will retire in February 2017 after serving five years as Britain’s most senior police officer. 

Transcript of speech as delivered.

The Commissioner's speech on Tuesday, 14 February at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies:

Policing the Metropolis and how policing in the future can change

Introduction - The values in policing

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me.

It’s an honour for me to give my final speech as Commissioner at RUSI after all the work you have done to protect the security of the public in so many ways.

It’s prompted me to reflect not just on my time leading the Met, but about what policing means and in particular, our relationship with the public.

You’d think from what you read and hear that it’s not great. In fact, Londoners are more confident in the Met now than when I took over, and if you still believe opinion pollsters after 2016, you’ll be aware that trust in policing has risen since 2011.

So when the time comes to hand in this - my warrant card – I’ll do so with pride at what I’ve put into this badge, and the values it represents. I humbly believe that the next generation of recruits to wear this are joining a service that’s stronger, more professional and more capable than when I joined in 1979.

I got my values from my upbringing in Sheffield. I didn’t like those who preyed on people on the estate where I lived with my mother. I always wanted to take on the bullies, people who used their position of strength to intimidate physically or psychologically. I still do.

And if you go and ask the public today, as we often do, they’ll tell you they want the police, above all else, to protect them. That means, I believe, that police have a particular responsibility to protect weak and vulnerable people who are less able to protect themselves

Correspondingly, we have a duty to ensure that we investigate without fear or favour if allegations are made against those in powerful positions. We must not be deflected by their status.

That will lead to tension, at times, between police and those in positions of power and responsibility, such as the media and politicians. I think that’s a healthy sign of a democracy where no one’s above the law. When the public see police being criticised by those in power, I hope they reflect upon that.

It frustrates me when people call into question our motives for carrying out an investigation. Our duties are set out very clearly in the oath of attestation police officers take when they become a constable. This is how it starts;

"I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property."

I firmly believe the vast majority of the women and men I have had the privilege to lead, exhibit these values day-in, day-out.

Where we do let people down, I honestly believe it’s usually a mistake rather than malice. And to be absolutely clear, if we do see a sign of anything approaching corruption, we act.

That’s why we had to investigate the evidence that police officers and other public officials were being paid to hand over confidential information to journalists. We cannot afford to have our secure systems compromised.

We encourage internal whistleblowers to call our confidential Rightline to report concerns. I personally make a point of looking each month to see what’s reported, to assure myself that our people are confident to get in touch. It’s just one of the reasons why the Met’s anti-corruption capability is recognised as one of the best in the world.

So the public are right to trust the police.

Right to trust the officers I met on New Year’s Eve - allowing the public to enjoy that event despite the fears caused by the attack in Berlin, and earlier in Nice;

Right to trust the detectives in our sexual offending team - who sit down and listen to horrendous accounts of abuse - take it seriously - accept what’s been said and get on and investigate;

And right to trust our firearms officers - the people who will put their lives on the line to protect you from criminals and terrorists.

Firearms officers

I do want to focus on this particular group today - the officers who volunteer to be trained to carry firearms.

I’ve spent a lot of time with them over the past year. When I decided we needed 600 more specialist firearms officers to protect the public and support our colleagues in the front-line, I also decided to take a personal role in making sure it happened as fast as possible.

So every few weeks since then, I’ve met officers from our firearms team to check on progress and do everything possible to clear obstacles out of the way.

Some of those obstacles are practical, training the officers, getting enough kit, getting the right kit.

Some though are harder to deal with. In particular, officers have seen what happens to their colleagues who have had to use lethal force to protect the public. Increasingly, they seem to be portrayed as suspects, based, I can only assume, on an underlying belief that they must have acted in a criminal fashion if someone has died.

As their leader, I am hugely concerned by this. I know these officers. They do not come to work wanting to shoot someone. They certainly don’t want to kill anyone. Apart from anything else, they now know it’s probably going to put their career in firearms on hold whilst there’s an investigation. That can take years, which is too long.

This is a dangerous place to be - in two ways. Firstly, it’s getting in the way of recruiting to these critical roles.

Whilst we are well on track to fill the additional 600 roles, we simply don’t have enough people now wanting to do these jobs. The failure rate in training is high. It should be, so the public can be assured that only our best officers are allowed to carry a gun. So we always need more people volunteering than we have jobs, and we’re now dipping in a very shallow pool of willing officers.

Secondly, we can’t afford to have officers think twice because they fear the consequences of shooting someone. That’s how they get shot, or the public gets hurt, or a criminal gets away with a gun.

Make no mistake, the last thing we want to do is to force a vehicle to stop because it’s got an armed criminal inside. It’s dangerous for us, it’s dangerous for the public and it’s dangerous for the criminal too. But sometimes we have no choice.

Shootings are rare in the UK and rare in London. This city has got safer. It averaged over 150 murders a year in the six years before I became Commissioner. That has fallen to an average of 110.

But 12 people were still shot dead by criminals in London in 2016. That’s 12 deaths too many and we are concerned that we’re seeing more guns which is why we’ve put more officers into tackling this. In fact, we recovered 697 firearms last year. We have to have highly-trained firearms officers to counter the threat from armed criminals and terrorists.

Those officers carried out more than 3,300 deployments involving firearms in 2016, but they did not fire a single shot at a suspect. It’s an urban myth that officers are trigger-happy. They’re not. In fact, in one of the most notable cases last year, the fatal stabbing in Russell Square, the young man who was responsible, after he suffered a severe episode of mental health, is alive today because our officers made a split-second decision to use a Taser to detain him, not a gun.

I think we will have enough specialist firearms officers to meet the current threat once the 600 extra have all been trained. But I’m sure my successor will want to keep under review the number equipped with Taser, as other forces issue them more widely to officers than the Met does.

I recognise some people are concerned about this, but I think the public should be reassured that our police are well-trained and cautious in their use of force. We do need to strike the right balance, but I strongly believe that when people look at what we do, there should be less suspicion and more trust.

This may all sound a remote risk to those who think any police shooting is unjustified. Well, you probably don’t live in the communities affected. It’s not your family member who was shot, or is in fear of their life. That’s who we are trying to protect, and I really want the public to get behind our officers, show their support for them, and ensure they get treated fairly after a shooting.

That’s what I called for publicly after the Paris attack at the Bataclan theatre, and I was pleased when David Cameron said he would commission a review of the legal position of firearms officers. I know they are looking forward keenly to the outcome.

I think that RUSI is the right place to highlight again the position of police officers, especially after the public have been critical about the way our soldiers have been investigated. This audience understands the security threats better than anyone. You’ve seen the use of lorries in Berlin and Nice, and you can be assured that we have refreshed our tactics for dealing with this kind of incident. They must always include the use of lethal force as a last resort. We’ve seen how a heavy lorry becomes an incredibly powerful weapon when a terrorist is at the wheel. We have to be ready to stop that threat.

Our officers will put their lives on the line when it matters. The Prime Minister rightly called them unsung heroes just before Christmas. I agree. Our firearms officers are part of that defensive shield for Londoners and they are very much unsung heroes. I’m grateful too that the Mayor acknowledged this when we stood side-by-side in August to announce that armed policing would be more visible in the capital.

He chose to use his first opportunity as Mayor to meet firearms officers and said then how reassuring it was to ‘see our brave, dedicated and incredibly skilled armed response officers in action’ and he went on to thank every Met officer who has volunteered to put themselves on the frontline of protecting Londoners.

I’d like to see politicians and the public follow his lead and be ready to support these officers, on the difficult days not just when it’s uncontentious.

I hope too they’ll support my successor as they continue to make the case for the financial support required to police this great and growing city, the engine of our country’s economy. We know there are tough times ahead, and as I’ve warned in recent weeks, there are some warning lights flashing.

Traditional crimes are rising, including gun and knife crime, though the Met’s Total Policing strategy has kept down this increase in the capital by deploying extra officers into the worst-affected areas.

The range of things we’re asked to do as police is stretching us as online crime increases and terrorism evolves. And our partners in local authorities are under severe financial pressure with things like CCTV and youth services being scaled back.

The next Commissioner will have to deal with all of this in a growing city with fewer officers.

I know it’s hard to put a price on public safety, but at a time of significant terrorist activity across Europe’s capitals and major cities, it’s vital that London continues to be seen as a safe place to live, work and visit. It is part of what makes this city so attractive to people of talent and enterprise from around the world and that’s a key reason why international businesses want to come here.

Of course, keeping the capital safe brings with it some additional costs, such as policing State visits or upholding the right to protest. I’m sure the Government recognises the economic value of a safe capital, and won’t put my successor into the position of having to choose between this and keeping our neighbourhoods safe.

Our vision

The threat from armed criminality and terrorism has been clear to the public from recent international events.

But I’ve made plain over the past couple of years that the threats to public safety are numerous and varied.

They include;

+ increased reporting of sexual offending against adults and children, including historic abuse,
a rise in domestic violence,
+ an ongoing battle against knife-crime
+ and then there’s the new frontier of digital or cyber-crime, which includes online hate-crime as well as fraud, predatory criminality, data-theft and hacking.

If I could, I’d be putting more resources into all of these areas. But the reality, as I have spelt out in recent weeks, is that we face losing officers. So we can’t just put more people into facing all of the threats.

I’ll finish today then by talking about our vision for becoming more effective, more efficient and transforming the Met into the best digital police service.

It’s a well-developed vision which brings to life one of the biggest and most ambitious change programmes in the country. And it’s why I believe my successor, although they will face real financial difficulties, is inheriting an organisation in good shape to deal with the future.

The front-line police officer is at the centre of our vision. Our aim is simple. It’s to make them as effective as possible at keeping the public safe, being the best-crime-fighter they can possibly be, and earning the trust and confidence of every community in London.

There are four ways in which we’ll achieve that;

1) Firstly, providing real-time information to officers via smart mobile devices like tablets that will improve their situational awareness and their ability to understand and manage risks to the public;

2) Secondly, transforming the way the public can get help from police through digital channels, in a relationship based on transparency and accountability

3) Thirdly, professional support for our officers, whether that’s the quality of data they receive to do their job, or the ability to work smartly from better but fewer buildings;

4) And finally, and most importantly in my view, a focus on investing in and trusting our people. It’s their values and professionalism that keep London safe.

Let me develop those areas for you.

1) Firstly, how we are equipping our officers in the frontline:

At the core of policing is the need to understand and manage risk. Our ability to do that hinges on the quality of information our officers have and their ability to access and analyse it in a timely fashion to anticipate threats and respond accordingly. If you’re an officer on night-duty called to an incident, you want information quickly to help you make the right judgements.

We already have lots of information coming into our control rooms by different channels. Live CCTV feeds, data from automatic recognition of number-plates which helps us track suspects and criminals, social media and other historic intelligence within policing systems and critically, the information we get from the public calling us to report crime and tell us what they’ve seen.

Receiving and analysing this information in real time is gold-dust for commanders and for people in the front-line. That’s why I have pushed hard to equip our officers with secure smart devices – tablets, phones, laptops – which will begin in earnest this summer.

With these tools will come the ability to provide officers with the live-video streams we can see in the control room, up-to-the moment images of suspects or incidents they are about to encounter, real-time data from ANPR - automatic number-plate recognition and the other intelligence feeds we have. This multi-channel capability offers huge potential to improve our ability to understand situational risks and to use data quickly to make the correct judgement to protect vulnerable people.

2) Secondly, we are enabling the people who need our help to contact us via a range of digital and social channels, which are faster and easier to use. People want to have this choice, but for those who want to get in touch directly, we are also investing in more dedicated neighbourhood officers and more welcoming police stations.

I’m excited by the potential of digital policing. We’ve already used social media to mobilise taxi-drivers in Marylebone to help us catch criminals and we’re about to go live with a new website that will allow the public shortly to report far more crime online in a way that will be easier for them and us.

We’re moving on to allow the public to upload evidence to us of a crime, like videos or photos.

We’re planning to introduce that this year, allowing our officers to make much more rapid judgements about opportunities to investigate and catch offenders, without the public having to wait a few days for an officer to deal with a non-emergency.

Building a digital relationship with the public will also allow us to deliver customised crime prevention information to protect their property and their own safety. Our new website will contain localised crime information for every one of London’s 629 wards and in time, if you wish, we will be able to contact you proactively by postcode to alert you to threats. It’s the virtual equivalent of what we call cocooning - knocking on people’s doors in the vicinity of a burglary to let them know so they don’t become the next victim.

We know from all the research we’ve done that the majority of the public want to help the police. We haven’t always been very good at telling or enabling them to do so. The more they can help us prevent crime or investigate at speed, the more we can focus on sending our officers to protect the most vulnerable.

Our role in this contract with the public is based on transparency and accountability. Where we’ve got it wrong, I’ve always been willing to apologise, sometimes for mistakes from decades ago.

And I’ve not shied away from our difficulties, ensuring they get properly looked at so we can get better. That’s why at various times, I’ve asked outside experts to look at how we deal with mental health, rape and the investigation of allegations of historic abuse.

I am proud to say the Met now has more officers equipped with body-worn video than any other police force in the world, 7,500. And in a matter of months, that will rise to 22,000. They let courts see what happened in an incident and the evidence captured means our officers are even bigger fans than the public. They accept, as I have always done, that our duties include being held to account and that’s why I welcome the role that modern technology can play in ensuring this is done fairly.

3) I won’t dwell on the third part of our vision – professional support for our officers - but I do want to say a few more words about our people and the role they play in our vision of the future.

4) Police officers have been much maligned in recent years. I’ve done my bit at every opportunity to praise and celebrate their commitment, their passion and, with you today, their values.

I’ve also been challenging. I’ve championed direct entry from outside policing into senior officer roles and now as detectives. I’ve supported Police Now, a scheme which originated in the Met to offer graduates a faster route into frontline policing as neighbourhood officers.

I’ve invested time and money in developing our leaders - at all levels - for the challenges of the future. I’ve indicated that I think we need fewer ranks to narrow the gap between the top and bottom of the organisation to improve communication and decision-making.

I’ve done this because I trust our leaders and because I know the future demands more and more of us. If you just think about the opportunities that real-time information provides, it allows for much more autonomous decision-making and a need to move away from the old supervision model. The future will offer more freedom to officers, but also better and faster data that will support our evidence-based decision-making and reduce the reliance on individual instincts.

Some call this police reform, some call it continuous improvement. For me, my time as Commissioner and as a police officer, has been a restless search for ways to stay ahead of criminals and improve the professionalism of policing.

Our people are the most important part of this vision, and my successor is very lucky to be inheriting the finest collection of officers and staff they will ever lead.


London is a remarkable place and I have been proud to lead the women and men of the Met as they strive to fulfil our ambition to make this the safest global city. They are an extraordinarily diverse bunch. We have someone from every single country in the European Union serving in our ranks and between us we speak nearly all the 300 languages that you find in London’s communities, including Yorkshire.

I am pleased that we have increased by a third the number of officers from minorities in my time as Commissioner. I can assure any Londoner from whatever background or ethnicity that they will feel welcome in the Met, just as London itself is a welcoming city. It welcomed me, as a young man from Sheffield, and it’s always welcomed people from all over the world.

The values the Met adopted under my leadership –courage, compassion, professionalism, integrity - are the reason why I’m so proud of the work we do to make this the safest global city.

Courage – frontline police officers running towards trouble when others run away

Compassion – caring for victims and protecting the most vulnerable people

Professionalism – recognising and developing the skills and expertise our officers and staff need to do the job

And Integrity – the ethics and values that build public trust

Of course we can always do better. Police officers aren’t perfect. We’re human. There are moments when we let down the public, just like there are parts of our city that aren’t perfect and are difficult, violent places to live.

I tell you what you though. We’ll be there, however difficult, however violent the situation, running towards trouble, doing our bit to protect the public, upholding our values, acting without fear or favour and making London safe for all our communities.


Speaker Biography

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM joined South Yorkshire Police in 1979, where he worked across the South Yorkshire area in uniform, CID, traffic and personnel. He joined Merseyside Police as Assistant Chief Constable Community Affairs in 1997, before taking responsibility for Area Operations in 1999. He was Gold Commander during the national Petrol Disputes of 2000/2001. Sir Bernard joined the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) as Assistant Commissioner in July 2001 with responsibility for Human Resources. He re-joined Merseyside Police in 2004, after leaving the MPS, on appointment to Chief Constable. He was appointed to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in October 2009 and his work included inspections of the MPS, City of London Police, British Transport Police, Serious Organised Crime Agency and Police Service of Northern Ireland. He was also the lead Her Majesty's Inspector on thematic areas of policing such as the Olympics, counter terrorism and serious organised crime. In January 2011 he led the review of the national domestic extremism units. He was appointed as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in September 2011.

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