Public Relations (PR) Crisis PR Marketing

Can crisis comms help restore the Met Police’s reputation?


By Jonathan Hemus, Managing director

March 19, 2024 | 6 min read

Insignia’s Jonathan Hemus acknowledges that the Met Police is limited in how it can respond to its mounting trust crises. What is clear is that it will take more than a spin job.

UK police on the beat

With trust in the Met Police at an all-time low among ethnic and minority groups in particular, it is taking the flak for “comms spin and culture denial,” the regular accusations that it is institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic, and the strong response to the Wayne Couzens case earlier this year, the Met Police has a lot of work on its hands.

Having worked in crisis management for twenty-five years, I have learned that when a crisis strikes an organization, so long as it responds well, identifies the root cause of the issue and takes steps to prevent a repeat, reputation and trust can be preserved. Indeed, in some cases, such as Johnson and Johnson’s 1982 Tylenol recall, reputation can even be enhanced.

However, when an organization finds itself mired in a succession of crises, its rap sheet grows and it becomes known as a bad actor. Furthermore, reputation recovery becomes increasingly challenging when it appears to be more interested in downplaying rather than addressing its problems.

Such is the situation facing the Metropolitan Police.

The Met’s toxic reputation

Since the Stephen Laurence inquiry a quarter of a century ago when the force was described as ‘institutionally racist,’ it has lurched from crisis to crisis, struggling to rid itself of negative perceptions from many of its stakeholders.

Warren Buffett once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Founded in 1829, it feels like the Metropolitan Police spent 170 years building its reputation and the last 25 years destroying it.

Most recently, the Casey Report found the Met to be not only institutionally racist but institutionally misogynistic and homophobic, too. For any organization, this would be the very definition of a toxic brand.

Lack of trust an existential threat

So what can it do to address the existential threat it faces and reinstate the “policing by consent” that underpinned its Peelian origins?

Effective crisis management means simultaneously addressing the underlying problem while also communicating effectively with key stakeholders. Saying the right things will have no effect on the Met’s reputation recovery if fine words are not backed up with significant and sustained change.

How to change the culture

This will require courageous leadership, beginning with the biggest challenge of all: culture change.

The force needs to eschew the ingrained institutional defensiveness which has contributed to the current situation. Instead, it must think about the unthinkable, welcome challenge and encourage dissenting voices. It needs to listen more than talk and engage rather than tell.

And, as the Met’s leadership looks to the future, it must be vigilant for the first sign of crisis and keen to listen, empathize and act when concerns are raised.

A complex stakeholder landscape

Every crisis involves communicating with multiple stakeholder groups, and for an organization as high profile and controversial as the Metropolitan Police, the stakeholder landscape is vast and complex. At a time when the organization is fighting for its existence, it will find it hard to engage equally with all of its stakeholders.

Neither should it. It is better to focus disproportionate communication on the stakeholders that matter most to rebuild its reputation than spread itself too thinly. With this in mind, communicating with the people of London and its own officers should be the top priority. Get the communication right with these two groups, and progress can be made.

Prioritizing internal communication

Internal communication will be critical not only to declare and demonstrate that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated but also to engage the many thousands of good, honest police officers whose morale must be at an all-time low. Retaining the good apples within the Met will be essential to building the new culture it so desperately needs.

Wherever conspiracies of silence existed, they must be replaced with an expectation that bad, unprofessional, unethical and criminal behavior within its ranks will be called out. This is fundamental to the culture change and open internal communication required to transform the force.

Staying true to its values

The brands and businesses that suffer the greatest reputational damage from a crisis are those whose organizational values have been grievously undermined by what has occurred. Equally, reputation recovery can only be achieved by epitomizing those same values.

Everything it does and everything it says must hold true to its values – ‘Integrity, Respect, Accountable, Empathy’ – if it is to have any prospect of restoring its reputation and the trust of its stakeholders.

Any deviation from this and no amount of fine words will avert the existential threat dangling over the Metropolitan Police like the Sword of Damocles.

Jonathan Hemus, managing director of specialist crisis management consultancy Insignia and author of the award-winning book Crisis Proof. You can continue the conversation with him on LinkedIn.

Public Relations (PR) Crisis PR Marketing

More from Public Relations (PR)

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +