Honesty is the best policy for the Met

We British have a contrary attitude to policing. Broadly, we trust the service to stand between us and those who would take our money, drive like lunatics, or blow us up.

But while we want policemen, we don't like being policed. We want to see them coming. That is why 19th-century Londoners insisted that the Bow Street Runners wore hats tall enough to be spotted in a crowd.

This paradox leaves the force's communicators with a pair of problems – first they must deliver clear messages from a necessarily complex operation, and second, offer an approachable public face while keeping a high level of authority. 

In practice, the challenges faced by the Met in 2006 are manifold. It must deal with the aftermath of the Independent Police Complaints Commission's inquiry into the Stockwell shooting. It is also engaged in the ongoing 7 July investigations and must continue to fight to thwart further terrorist attack. Although access to police work in these areas is constrained by legal considerations, press and public will rightly want to be kept informed of any progress.

But at least these issues are headline friendly. Less well reported, but of at least equal importance, is the Met's 'Safer Neighbourhoods' campaign. It sounds prosaic, but the provision of a safe walk home is far more resonant with most Londoners than the fear of terrorism. And this can only be delivered through community liaison, listening very hard, and dealing well with bread-and-butter policing, not just high-end crime.

A reforming Met commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, once argued that the police 'needed to win by losing'. He was talking about riot control, but the principle is sound in a wider sense.

A police service that takes some knocks, acknowledges its faults, but succeeds in the longer term, commands respect. And if things go wrong, that respect inclines people at least to hear its case. So if the Met is to convey the complexity of its service to London, it needs to deliver a positive and constructive response to inevitable criticism. 

It can be a virtuous circle. Honesty, alongside successful community initiatives, will safeguard the Met's reputation with Londoners – and with it remove the conditions of fear and resentment that breed crime, and terrorists, in the first place.

Mike Granatt is a partner at Luther Pendragon and former director-general of the Government Information and Communication Service

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