When I gave my first interviews as Commissioner one of the biggest talking points was something I consider to be a minor detail – the fact I don’t have a (working) TV at my flat. It’s a long story involving a broken aerial, but I don’t miss it.
To my surprise I find I am in good company, as more people are giving up traditional televisions and watching programmes via streaming services like BBC iPlayer. That’s how I do my viewing, when time allows, and from the top picks and most watched programmes that are promoted it is clear that crime and policing programmes, both factual and fictional, fascinate all of us.
This week will see the broadcast of series two of the primetime BBC1 documentary “The Met: Policing London”. This is a powerful and intimate way to allow the public behind the scenes of the Met. In an organisation of more than 45,000 people and with tactics and jobs that have to remain confidential it can’t show everything. However, it is an opportunity that we welcome to give the public we serve more insight in to how we police London’s streets.
Of course it is always going to be a risk to let cameras in. I was part of the Met’s Management Board when we agreed to series one and it was not an easy decision. We have no editorial control – as long as the filming does not jeopardise a criminal trial or expose covert policing tactics the BBC can show what they shoot. From the hundreds of hours of filmed material it is up to the BBC team to decide what makes it in to the programme. Some may assume press officers are chaperoning the crews and determining where they can go – this is not the case. With up to four crews in and around the Met at any one time for a year it would have been impossible to do that, even if we wanted to.
So yes, this TV access is a risk, but we also know the public are engaged by the challenges we face and how we tackle them. I think this is because policing, when you boil it down, is all about the people involved and their very human stories. People helping protect people from those trying to harm them.
Series one, shown two years ago, reached a cross section of viewers. Research showed that it had particularly resonated with young people and those from minority communities who said it had helped them to understand the range and complexity of policing. I believe we are the best police force in the world. We trust our officers doing the job and we should trust them with the scrutiny that a “fly on the wall” TV crew brings.
I have been lucky enough to preview some of the programmes in the new series. It covers the stark reality of policing and the outstanding people doing their job day in day out. It shows our sensitivity in dealing with the most vulnerable of victims in a sexual assault case, the danger and fears of being at the heart of mass disorder, the investigative skill, time and effort to bring an offender to justice and the teambuilding of an officer who brings in expertise from around the Met to tackle prostitution blighting her local community. It shows officers wrestling with the effects of homelessness, mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. It shows the service, literally, as the service of last resort for the desperate.
We do not get to handpick who the cameras focus on – it is a decision for the programme makers. The episodes I have seen really made me proud. It showed that we did not have to supply producers with the best officers – because they are there in every corner of the Met. We see police people in all sorts of roles and from all kinds of backgrounds, doing great and usually very difficult work in tough circumstances. We also see them as people, relaxing and having fun as well as showing buckets of courage, integrity, humanity and sensitivity. The characters are found by the cameras, and not sourced for them by us.
Some viewers will find some aspects of what happens on our streets shocking. Inevitably a documentary will focus on what is dramatic and exciting at the expense of the routine, repetitive or humdrum. Viewers who does not know London might therefore get a somewhat slanted view of what happens. But I do think it gives a real insight into the life of the Met.
If, like me, you don’t own a TV please try and catch this series on your computer or at a friend’s house. This is an opportunity to see behind or even beyond headlines and get a feel for what policing London is all about. If it encourages just one more brilliant person to follow a career into policing then it has been worth it. If it gives one person more context about why we are making an arrest in their high street then it has been worth it. If it inspires one person to get involved in the fight against knife crime it has been worth it. Even if it confirms someone’s negative views about what we do then it is worth making that a more informed opinion.
Finally I would like to thank the officers and staff who agreed to be filmed. It won’t have been an easy decision – they too had no control on what the BBC would show. By allowing the cameras in to see them doing their jobs they have performed another valuable public service.
*The second series of the factual show, which follows London’s Metropolitan Police, begins on Wednesday May 24th at 9pm on BBC One.