Tara Lai Quinlan says Baroness Casey’s review of the Metropolitan Police Service shows how the so-called ‘warrior culture’ is driving policing in the UK.
The landmark review by Baroness Casey has found the Metropolitan Police Service to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic. This language – “institutional” – means that these are not problems isolated to a few bad apples, like David Carrick or Wayne Couzens.
These officers and many others whose problematic behavior was known to colleagues remained on the post for years. This shows what police researchers have claimed for decades: that the barrel has been rotten for some time.
Police chiefs including Sir Stephen House, Neil Basu and Dal Babu have called for changes to the police’s institutional culture in recent years. But to change the culture we need to understand it.
One way scholars have understood the problems in policing is through the lens of “warrior culture”. This is characteristic of police institutions around the world, and the Casey review shows that the Met’s toxic atmosphere is no exception.
The warrior culture describes a police force with a military-like character. It encourages oppression, viewing traditionally marginalized groups such as poor people, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people as enemies. It defaults to aggression, violence and force, including lethal force, rather than de-escalation.
Although it is only in recent years that American academics have coined the term “warrior police”, British scholars have long debated the military approach and emphasis on social control of British police.
This perspective refutes the popular belief that British policing has been primarily shaped by the Peelian policing principles attributed to the Met’s 19th-century founder, Sir Robert Peel. These include policing by consent, gaining public respect and approval, impartiality, service to the public and minimizing the use of force.
With a warrior mindset, police are suspicious of the communities they serve, stereotyping them as lacking integrity, respect and not appreciating hard work. They only trust their fellow officers.
This culture creates an “us versus them” mindset, pitting officers against communities and against other officers from minority backgrounds or who reject the warrior mindset.
This is illustrated in the Casey review, in the numerous examples of racial alienation and bullying among officers and the conclusion that ethnic minority staff are “viewed with suspicion and seen as outsiders”.
Detachment from the people they police means officers are less invested in community well-being, especially in marginalized communities, and can more easily engage in aggressive policing tactics and violence. We see how embedded these biases are in British policing, in the stops and searches and deaths in police custody that disproportionately affect people of color.
My doctoral research found that warrior culture often derided and devalued officers working in policing roles focused on community engagement and trust building. Officers who work in these areas told me that their peers and supervisors often said that their efforts were not “real” policing and not of value. Some officers I spoke to even reported being viewed with suspicion by police colleagues for interacting so closely with the communities.
The birth of warrior culture
In any police organization there can be multiple cultures. Street officers, middle managers and senior police officers, for example, approach the job differently.
But research suggests that at the heart of policing, and most influential on a force’s overall behavior, is the culture of street policing, which researchers have long believed is grounded in a warrior model.
One reason the warrior culture has become so embedded in policing is that it can be seen as beneficial to officers. In theory, it creates camaraderie and a shared sense of values, enabling them to do what can often be a very difficult job.
British policing as a whole has not yet accepted the influence of police warrior culture and the way it perpetrates violence
Since its conception, London Met’s culture has been shaped by straight, white, working-class men who provided a primary source of police personnel. Traditional male notions of masculinity, sex, gender, race, aggression, physical strength and social control and interactions have influenced what is now institutionalized.
These norms are passed down from senior to more junior officers in the police academy and in the field. They are reinforced on the job through performance measures, supervisor evaluations, and promotion decisions. This makes racism, misogyny and homophobia even more difficult to eradicate and challenge.
Guardians, not warriors
In the United States, police leaders have called for an overhaul of the warrior model. Many argue that long-term reductions in police misconduct and brutality are only possible with a guardianship approach.
Police guardians are not opponents of local communities. Instead of aggression, they focus on community engagement, building trust, positive community relations, conflict avoidance, de-escalation and other peaceful means of policing.
Some departments, such as Arizona, Minnesota and Washington, have begun to make these changes voluntarily. Others, such as Ferguson, Missouri and New Orleans, have done so under court consent decrees.
This model could serve British police well. Many officers across UK forces and in a variety of roles already reject the warrior approach and act as police guardians in practice.
Officials I interviewed for my forthcoming book on police diversity say the shift to a guardianship model requires overhauling all aspects of policing, from recruiting and training to disciplining and firing officers.
But British policing as a whole has not yet accepted the influence of police warrior culture and the way it drives violence. This must happen in order for meaningful changes to the guardianship police to take place. Although long overdue, the Casey review is hopefully the impetus for this accounting.
Reprinted with permission from The Conversation – https://theconversation.com/met-police-casey-review-shows-how-warrior-culture-drives-policing-in-the-uk-202269
Tara Lai Quinlan is Assistant Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Birmingham.