Frances Crook's blog · 10 Nov 2017
Thoughts on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s address to the Howard League AGM
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, was invited to give a lecture at the Howard League’s most important event of the year, our AGM. She used the opportunity to call for more young children, in effect more black boys, to be sent to prison and for longer.
Each year a criminal justice luminary is invited to give a lecture on an area of their expertise to the Howard League, a charity. We invited the Met Commissioner to give a lecture at the end of a full day’s conference when the focus had been on the successes achieved by police across the country at reducing crime and community contact with the criminal justice system.
We had heard from chief constables and from the Assistant Commissioner in the Met, who talked about its success at reducing child arrests. The Commissioner was briefed about the Howard League’s work that has resulted in a two-thirds reduction in child arrests across the country, and she was invited to talk about the work of the Met.
Her talk was therefore an odd experience. She did not deliver a lecture, it appeared to be more a few unconnected thoughts presented as challenges to the audience. There were about 100 people in the room, including former prison governors and academics as well as people who had been through the system.
Cressida Dick talked emotionally about young black men dying through knife crime. We all share that concern, the challenge is how to save lives, and I was hoping that she would explain how the police might achieve that as, she herself pointed out, the Met is currently failing.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently said there was not a single institution in this country holding children that could be considered safe
David Lammy has done a fantastic job of confronting the issues facing BAME young people in London and how we can reduce crime when they are both victims and perpetrators. Cressida Dick’s exposition did not, however, provide a considered understanding of the research and the lived experience of young black (and young white) people in London. Instead, she focused on her personal view that we should send certain younger children to prison earlier and for longer.
The direct inference from her comments was that this would impact on young black boys living in London, aged from around 13 to 15. The Commissioner made this proposal whilst acknowledging that the boys she spoke of are all too often both victims and perpetrators, being criminally exploited by gangs from a young age. She presented no evidence that this would prevent crime, that it might save lives, that it could foster good behaviour – because there is none.
Cressida Dick was talking about young black boys. She acknowledged they are often both victims and perpetrators, being criminally exploited by gangs. The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently said there was not a single institution in this country holding children that could be considered safe. If the answer to this problem is to lock 13- or 14-year-old black boys up for the remainder of their childhood in institutions sometimes described as ‘warzones’, then that is a counsel of despair.
Senior police have traditionally steered clear of commenting on sentencing and punishments. Just as judges have steered clear of commenting on operational policing. It was rather surprising that the head of the Met chose not to talk about things that are within her power to act on, but instead to focus on areas outside her expertise and responsibility, particularly when there are some good stories to tell about the work of her organisation.
The Howard League provides a platform to senior practitioners to discuss issues of public concern. Sir James Munby gave a thoughtful exposition of the role of the family courts at a Howard League lecture a week ago. Last year at the AGM Michael Spurr gave a talk about the challenges facing prisons and probation, and Nick Hardwick gave a lecture on parole when he had just taken over as Chair of the Parole Board. These people talked about what they were responsible for.
I welcomed the appointment of the first woman to head the Met Police. I welcomed Cressida Dick as that person and I was pleased to invite her to lecture at the Howard League AGM. But she did not give any advance notification to the Howard League about the content of her speech, despite requests to do so. I was disappointed that she chose not to use this opportunity more constructively.