Public Affairs: A policeman’s lot is not a happy one - In a bid to improve its image Met Commissioner Sir Paul Condon has owned up to problems in the forces but critics say it’s time to demonstrate how those problems are being solved

When Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon made his rallying call to stamp out corruption in the force recently, one man had more cause than others to wonder what kind of PR Pandora’s box Condon had opened.

When Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon made his

rallying call to stamp out corruption in the force recently, one man had

more cause than others to wonder what kind of PR Pandora’s box Condon

had opened.



Dick Fedorcio, newly-appointed director of public affairs and internal

communication at the Met, steps into the PR top slot at a pivotal time

for the force.



On the one hand, it can boast of falling crime figures, and can bask in

the glory of its adroit handling of the crowds at the funeral of Diana,

Princess of Wales. On the other hand, the Met appears uneasy with itself

- facing allegations of corruption in its ranks and low morale among

bobbies on the beat.



As a result, the image it projects is sometimes muddled, or

contradictory.



’Like any organisation the Met’s reputation or image is, to a certain

extent, determined by how people interact with it,’ says Fedorcio. ’The

annual research we do shows that confidence in the police remains at

very high levels. I have no reason to believe that confidence will

fall.’



The Met has undeniably made great strides with its community relations,

adopting a far more sensitive and responsive approach than was the case

in the early 1980s.



Issues of concern are brought to the attention of senior officers

through a network of 41 Police and Community Consultative Groups across

London.



’They are doing the right things,’ says Neville Wade, an independent PR

consultant to the Crimestoppers Trust for the past five years. ’They are

talking to community groups and generating dialogue. They’ve still got

to do more to get police officers to be more open with the

community.



But they’ve set procedures in place to make that happen and have much

more of an open door policy now.’



But, given London’s large population of ethnic minorities and the

controversial use of stop and search tactics, the Met continues to be

viewed with hostility by some sections of the community. ’I should think

if you’re a young and black in London you’d have a different view of the

Met to someone who was white and middle class,’ says Daily Telegraph

crime correspondent John Steele.



The Met is, however, making some progress in cleaning up its own act,

and by extension improving its image among Londoners.



’I think the Met takes complaints very seriously indeed,’ says Police

Complaints Authority press officer Richard Offer. ’Of fully investigated

cases in the Met, one in three leads to some form of disciplinary

action, whereas the average in the rest of the country is one in

four.’



But although this could illustrate how keenly the Met is cracking down

on any hint of wrong-doing, it could also show that there is simply more

occurrence of it in London than in the rest of the country.



Condon has launched what amounts to a crusade against corruption.

Although it is at nowhere near the levels that plagued the force in the

late 1960s and early 1970s - in the five years after Sir Robert Mark

became commissioner in 1972 and launched a clean-up, 478 officers left

following or in anticipation of disciplinary proceedings - Condon

believes it remains a serious problem and would like greater powers to

deal with corrupt officers.



’We do need something to be done about the corruption that’s as upfront

as the condemnation of it has been,’ says Metropolitan Police Federation

chairman Mike Bennett. ’All we seem to be doing is publicising that we

have a problem, rather than showing how we’re solving it.’



The Federation is the staff association representing the Met’s 27,000

officers. But Bennett is scathing of the Met’s 70-strong PR department,

accusing it of being a ’lapdog’.



Furthermore, Bennett believes that the external image the Met has been

trying to project does not square with the reality of the internal

situation.



Valid and serious concerns have been overlooked in communications with

staff, he claims. He cites an internally circulated report which

questioned the investigative abilities of detective constables, and the

question of tenure - a scheme introduced in July under which officers

are to move jobs on a regular basis as examples. Many officers have

found this unsettling.



’You can’t have all these problems internally and preach to the world

that we’re winning the war,’ argues Bennett. While he would not wish the

communications department to put out stories highlighting discord in the

ranks, he does believe the Met has to tackle some of its problems more

honestly.



Gary Mason, editor of the independent publication Police Review,

criticises the Met for putting an end to its monthly briefings of crime

correspondents and also believes the force has been lacklustre when

confronted with awkward news, becoming ’very, very defensive of anything

that might be construed as negative’.



The Met’s communications team has its work cut out. As Fedorcio says,

the Met is ’never out of the news’, and much of its time is spent

reacting to events. His response to criticism is to state simply: ’look

at the future.’



But as with the best detectives, Fedorcio will have to make time to put

his problem-solving skills to the test. Bad news and bad feeling in the

ranks should be glossed over no longer.



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