Feb. 22 marks a historic day for the Scotland Yard, the largest police force in Britain; this 188-year-old force has appointed Cressida Dick as the first female police commissioner.
Who is this woman and what makes her so incredible? Her lengthy resume speaks for itself; Dick joined the Metropolitan Police in 1983 as a constable and by 1995 was already working her way up the force when she became a superintendent of the Thames Valley Police. In 2001, Dick took a break from her career to attend the University of Cambridge to study criminology. Upon graduating, she returned to the Metropolitan Police as a commander with a focus on the force’s diversity directorate, a key position in a time where the force was dealing with backlash from the murder of Stephen Lawrence. From her success as a commander, she was again moved to head Operation Trident in 2003, which dealt with gun violence throughout London’s black community.
She later moved toward combating suicide bombers as gold commander of Operation Kratos. It was during this transition that she acquired a stain on her excellent career after several of her own officers mistook a civilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, for a jihadist and shot him dead under her watch. While she was exonerated of blame for the incident, she stood by her officers arguing they did their best with their given information, despite feeling regretful that an innocent man was killed. While upsetting to many, the episode clearly demonstrated her ability to navigate a tense, tragic situation in a strong and respectable way. Finally, her career came to a close after she was again promoted and moved from the counter-terror realm, which pushed her into retirement in 2014.
Dick’s recent appointment to the position of police commissioner has pulled her out of retirement and back into police work. Her vast experience and dedication to the force has earned her great respect from many of her colleagues. Her strong leadership capabilities and noted patience and intellect in tough situations have made her an ideal candidate for this position. While her gender may be seen as a possible asset to issues facing the Scotland Yard, she was very clearly chosen for her excellent skills, innovation, and insight into the field of police work.
However, this appointment was not met without criticism. Many criticize her appointment with regards to her being so involved in the de Menezes operation. Critics argue that while she may have been personally exonerated of blame for the incident, she still was commander at the time of the incident and should have held responsibility for it. They believe that she should have resigned and not doing so shows a lack of accountability.
Additionally, her privileged status before joining the force has become a point of critique. Many argue that while her appointment may be making strides for women as a whole, this is just another display of the “high walls of inequality.” As a woman born to two Oxford academics with a private school education of her own, some argue that she may just be a different face of the upper class.
While Dick may have been born into a relatively privileged upbringing, she has chosen to challenge herself and take hard routes throughout her career. Beginning with her undergraduate degree at Balliol College, where she was among the first females to ever graduate. Instead of settling into a comfortable life post-graduation, she chose to join a male-dominated police force for the remainder of her career. And though her career was marred by the de Menezes scandal, Dick was doggedly dedicated to the protection of the inhabitants of London and continued to work as a leader in the force.
Dick is clearly passionate about the safety of the people, and she is both highly qualified and well-deserving of this position. Her great success should not be diminished by the fact that she was not born into a family of lower socioeconomic status. Women everywhere should be proud of the historic nature of the appointment of a woman in heading a premier police force like the Scotland Yard.