Scotland Yard has its first woman Commissioner and nearly 15 percent of the Metropolitan Police in London are from ethnic minorities.
Progress is being made. Policing in England is no longer so vulnerable to accusations of chauvinism and racism – even if it has taken more than 40 years since the then commissioner, Robert Mark, set true representation of the population as one of the Force’s prime objectives.
And what a tribute it is to the British police that they still routinely go unarmed. Guns are only used when there’s a need to confront armed criminals or terrorists. The officer who breaks up a street fight on a Saturday night is likely to have only a truncheon as a weapon, probably not even a taser.
How long can that last? Certainly not another 40 years.
Of course, not everything in the “nick” is rosy. Another 40-year comparison shows that the manpower of the “Met” (Metropolitan Police) is pretty much at the same level in 2017 as it was in 1977. Meanwhile, cost-cutting is reducing the number of civilian support staff and causing the closure of some police stations.
That retrenching has been offset to some degree by the adoption of better technology. But that in itself works two ways – cyber crime and the use by terrorists of computers for communication and weapons guidance are threats that did not exist back in the day.
In my novel, Beyond the Last Hill, I look back to 1968, a time when the front line was a “bobby” on the beat, and a sergeant (instead of a civilian worker) at the reception desk.
Today, the front line is “response” – in the same manner that the fire and ambulance services are reactive, rather than pro-active.
Despite the changed scene, I have as much confidence in the British police now as I did in the old days. Mostly, they are dedicated, efficient, and their watchword is restraint. What they do quietly every day is admirable. It’s only when something goes wrong, or is alleged to have gone wrong, that they burst into the media.
The average tenure of a Commissioner is five years. During that time, the new incumbent, Cressida Dick, will face more pressure on budgets, more accountability, headline-grabbing blunders and misdeeds by some of her officers, and some sort of spectacular crime.
And today the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism has warned that the threat of terrorism is at its highest level for nearly 50 years.
You’re a brave woman to take on the job, Cressida. All power to you.