Leadership Lessons from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
An Insight from the 2016 Public Safety Summit
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In September 2011, when Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe became the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MET), he faced significant challenges. The agency had had five commissioners in the previous seven years, a spate of discontinuity that had interfered with the development and pursuit of a coherent vision. More immediately, the MET was dealing with the aftermath of the London Riots, a multi-day event in August 2011 when thousands of people took to the streets following the death of a local resident who had been shot by a police officer. The riots—which involved looting, arson, and violence—resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 people and damaged the already tenuous relationship between law enforcement and the public. Making matters more difficult, the agency had to recover quickly because in less than one year, London would host the 2012 Olympics—an event that would place the city on the world’s biggest stage and test the MET’s security and event management capabilities.

Hogan-Howe not only helped London to navigate the Olympics without incident; five years into his tenure as commissioner, he has made London significantly safer while pursuing transformation at the MET. Murder is at its lowest level in decades, crime is down by more than 18 percent, and burglaries have fallen to the lowest point since 1973. More broadly, a sense of optimism has begun to permeate the force. As Hogan-Howe recently said, “If you had any doubt, if my officers had any doubt, then let’s be clear – the MET is a ‘can-do’ organization….” The commissioner has achieved this progress because, as he explained in his keynote address at the 2016 Public Safety Summit: Building Capacity and Legitimacy, he treated the challenges he faced at the start of his tenure as an opportunity to transform the agency. More specifically, he has employed five leadership techniques—vision, communication, team building, fiscal discipline, and partnerships and engagement—to develop a set of clear priorities for the MET and work with his staff to devise a strategy to achieve those goals and make London safer.


Hogan-Howe has led in part through establishing a clear vision: “Total Policing.” This is the notion, as the commissioner explained, that the MET “is better as a team than [it is] as 50,000 individuals.” (The MET has approximately 50,000 staff-members.) To concretize this vision, Hogan-Howe further focuses staff on what he sees as three critical priorities: 1) when possible, prevent crimes; 2) care for victims; and 3) be professional. From Hogan-Howe’s perspective, this clear vision and the priorities that reinforce it are vital because they help staff to think strategically in an often-chaotic environment. “It seems to me,” he said, “the task of leaders can be to simplify.”


The MET Commissioner has reinforced that vision by engaging in substantive, in-person dialogue with his staff. Every four weeks, Hogan-Howe spends half a day with the MET’s chief superintendents; once every 12 weeks, he spends the same amount of time with the agency’s chief inspectors; and he holds an annual meeting with staff sergeants. To supplement these regular sessions, Hogan-Howe has a Commissioner’s Breakfast once every four weeks where staff can ask him questions. Once a month, he also randomly selects a precinct to visit to stay attuned to what is happening in the field. As Hogan-Howe acknowledged, this represents a “huge investment of time.” Nonetheless, he considers it worthwhile because these meetings give him an opportunity to provide progress updates, learn what his team members are seeing, bring in guest speakers, and engage with skeptics. This latter dialogue is important, Hogan-Howe emphasized, because it can often lead to insights about how to improve. More broadly, connecting with people in person is valuable because it provides the agency an opportunity to forge the bonds that can bind a large, diffuse organization together.

“It seems to me the task of leaders can be to simplify.”

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service (London)


Hogan-Howe has also pursued novel recruiting endeavors to create a team that is capable of and committed to transformation. One of these initiatives is “Police Now,” a program that brings college graduates—many of whom were not trained for careers in law enforcement—on staff for an initial two-year contract. The goal is to attract highly educated personnel that can bring valuable skills (e.g., IT expertise) and inject new approaches into the force. The commissioner has also recruited middle managers that have not worked as police officers. As Hogan-Howe pointed out, it takes time to train these non-traditional personnel. Nonetheless, he values these team members because they bring novel perspectives and new leadership styles that help to challenge the status quo.

Fiscal Discipline

Hogan-Howe has imposed fiscal discipline on the MET, which had a 600-million-pound deficit in 2011. One critical change has been eliminating approximately 3,500 of the department’s 14,500 managerial positions. He has also outsourced a number of the MET’s support functions, including human resources, finance, and procurement. Similarly, responding to feedback from a senior advisor, he has reduced the MET’s real estate foot print. This has enabled the agency to reinvest funds in capital projects, including construction of a new Scotland Yard. Finally, Hogan-Howe is embracing technology—including distributing mobile devices to all officers—to decrease paperwork and help the department to function more efficiently. In addition to generating substantial savings (approximately 600 million pounds), these changes demonstrate that Hogan-Howe is not only talking about the need for change, he is actually implementing it.

Partnerships and Engagement

Finally, Hogan-Howe has forged partnerships with a number of key stakeholders. For example, the commissioner has prioritized developing strong, collaborative relationships with government officials regardless of their political persuasion. Hogan-Howe has also built partnerships with academic experts, including faculty at University College London, with whom he is pursuing an initiative to conduct research on best practices in law enforcement. Finally, he regularly speaks with London residents and takes to heart their feedback about how the MET can improve. A case in point came early in his tenure when he was talking to a black family that described how they had been stopped multiple times per week as part of the MET’s “stop-and-search” policy. This helped Hogan-Howe to realize that the department had to reduce the number of searches and combat racial profiling. More broadly, it reflects that Hogan-Howe understands that a law enforcement official must not only be a leader within his/her department; he/she also has to function as an external leader as well.


While Hogan-Howe has made substantial progress in his time leading the London force, he recognizes that the MET needs to continue to evolve. This is in part because London itself will change in the years ahead. The population is expected to expand from 8.6 million to 9 million by 2020 and will experience a major uptick in the number of young men in the city, a trend that Hogan-Howe noted is often associated with an increase in crime. Nonetheless, the Commissioner and his team can take pride in the fact that they have become adept at the process of effecting change. In particular, Hogan-Howe has struck a balance between introducing new approaches, incorporating diverse ideas, and above all ensuring that the organization takes action. This has enabled the agency to make dramatic progress and will propel it forward in the ever-changing environment of 21st-century policing.


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