‘My colleagues were cockney wannabes on a power trip’: Life as a woman in the Met

Metropolitan Police Service woman
Metropolitan Police Service woman

I was a police community support officer (PCSO) between 2009 and March 2012 and a serving Metropolitan Police constable from March 2012 and November 2015. On my first day as PCSO, I was introduced to the sergeant. He immediately made me feel uncomfortable with his opening line: “Well, you’re a cute little thing. The recruits are getting better looking.” I was mortified. Everyone laughed. One person joked, “You’ll scare her away.”

This sergeant made comments about my figure the entire time I was on his team. “You look like you’ve put on weight recently, we need to get you out patrolling on the pedal cycle, hey?” he once said.

I had one other sergeant on this team who showed up for work on about three occasions the entire time we worked together. He would call me and ask me to show him on duty, but he had “things to take care of” so he wouldn’t be in the office. I kept records in my pocketbook of conversations we had and times he wasn’t at work but had asked me to clock him on. I stopped doing it. He found someone else to clock him in.

As a PCSO, my role was to gather intelligence. This intelligence is then analysed by intel handlers and assessed as to whether the informant could be a potential source. A Chis, they call them. A snitch. I was approached by an intel handler directly and asked if I would help him with a potential Chis. This is not the normal procedure. He asked for my personal number and would text me about non-work-related things. Flirty, lots of banter. It made me uncomfortable.

In 2012, I was recruited to become a police constable as part of the pre-Olympics drive to get more officers on the beat in time for the games. Everything was rushed. I received six official weeks of training and week six was spent doing absolutely nothing in the classroom, no lessons set and a passing out parade attended by the then London mayor, Boris Johnson. I was sent to “E relief”, an emergency response team. As a probationer on a new team in the Met, you are affectionately known as “probey” and “the pen” and everyone comments on how shiny your boots are in a teasing, school-playground manner. Everything is “just in jest”.

I was frequently told I was not to be trusted and must earn my place on the team. There was no one helping you to navigate your first few months in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. They want you to fail. I was appointed “chief tea maker” and told to turn up 30 minutes before my shift to prepare teas and biscuits. I was incredibly naive at the time, it never occurred to me that I could have said no to at any time. It was a rite of passage. Some members of the team took great pleasure in returning tea that wasn’t up to scratch and belittling me for it.

I did my fair amount of “bottom of the pile jobs”, which I took on the chin. I still believe that it’s important for everyone to muck in. It’s a learning process. I can recall certain moments in the job that I knew were wrong, but I was so new, I didn’t know what to do about it. I was never given a line manager or a personal development review.

One late shift, I was on patrol with an experienced colleague who received a private call from one of our sergeants. He required both of us to attend an address and not ask questions. I was quite worried about what sort of job we were going to; I was asking my colleague lots of questions. His response: “When you get one of these calls you don’t ask, you just do.”

I think the sergeant had been asked to attend a possible domestic at the address. When I arrived, I distinctly remember seeing copious amounts of blood on the tiled white floor that ran from the front door into the bathroom. I don’t remember seeing the male, but we were told to take details from the female – name, address, date of birth etc – and leave. The sergeant then left.

I later realised the sergeant must have given the man some of his own justice, for whatever the man had done to his wife. Hence all the blood. The lazy police sergeant couldn’t even be bothered to get his own pen out to write down some details which is why we were called. The report was out on the system as something known as a non-crime domestic, where no allegations have been made. A risk assessment should be made with each of these types of reports; it wasn’t done on this occasion. The sergeant had to make some kind of report as the incident had been phoned into the police, but he covered up his own actions.

I was subject to insane rumours, all originating from people who I had upset for the smallest of reasons – I questioned a decision, or I did a good job on something and threatened another person’s ego in the process. Because of these things, rumours circulated that were always sexual. That I had slept with someone on the team. That I gave someone a hand job in the office. That I had an STD. All designed to humiliate and discredit me. After all, if these rumours were spread about a man, they would be conquest stories, something to be proud of. These rumours were all false and were hugely damaging to my mental health.

I was locked in the resources cupboard once, momentarily, but long enough to know it was on purpose. I could hear them all laughing outside. I was late for parade and was told off. I had my uniform defaced, hidden or stolen, cocks drawn in my pocket book (which you potentially have to produce in court). It’s all banter, right?

One officer changed my email address to one with “Barbie” in it instead of my actual name. I used this email to colleagues and victims of crime for weeks before finally getting pulled up in front of sergeants and told off. Obviously, it was my fault.

Seeing officers target people for “stop and search” because of their colour or ethnicity was a frequent occurrence. Everyone was referred to by their ethnicity. “The Somalis”, “the Algerians”, “the IC3s” (which refers to dark complexion in police description terminology). I could count on one hand the officers who actually explained why a person was being stopped and why they were legally allowed to be searched. This is a mandatory procedure. People were pushed up against walls by some officers, sworn at and belittled. This is before body cameras came into effect.

Officers of colour or identified as LGBTQ were seen as a statistic, employed by the Met to make them look good. Not for their skills and qualities as an officer, of course. This was openly discussed.

Strip back the obvious culture of sexism, racism and homophobia, there is a huge level of unprofessionalism. The big question is why? The Met is built on a culture of bullying. They work unsociable shifts, which disconnects them from friendship groups before they joined. My friendships outside the force slipped away. My colleagues became my friends – or rather, my drinking buddies. My social life consisted of drinking after my shift. I’d get drunk to deal with the stress and wake up the next day and do it all again. After a night shift, we’d all go to “the early house”, eat a fry up at 7am, with a side of three pints. This would be my “night out”. It was lonely and tragic.

On the flip side, each and every member of a team would come running to save you if you were under attack. “Our gang is the biggest gang in London,” they would say. I felt protected. Looking back, I wasn’t protected. I was part of a gang of boys, Cockney wannabes on a power trip who had come running to “help” me because it meant they would probably get to beat up some bad guys.

The Met is also built on a culture of silence. See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. I never felt able to tell people what was going on, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, total naivety. I didn’t know any better. If everyone around you says it’s OK, it’s OK, right?

Secondly, there was the shame. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I was locked in a cupboard or talked about like I was the borough’s biggest slapper.

Lastly, there was no one to tell. What do you do if your superior is the cause or at least part of the problem? If you go to their superior, you risk being labelled as a troublemaker. So, you live with it. Accept it. And then become part of the problem. Once I had my first child, I asked about going part-time. My inspector told me to come back full-time first, then a flexible working pattern would be discussed. This was the final straw. The Met wouldn’t even support me in being a parent. I handed him my notice. They didn’t even care. Just another woman who left to be a mum. Women don’t belong in the Met, or so they want you to believe. I felt a failure. What a huge waste of time and energy. I had given the best part of my 20s to the Met. I was angry about it for a long time. I hadn’t failed myself. They had failed me.

As told to Martin Evans