The public won’t settle for a cop-out

Demands for police to address culture of misogyny in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder by a serving officer

Do we trust our cops? It’s a fundamental question with the ramifications of a negative answer terrifying in any society, and perhaps particularly difficult to grasp and accept in a land that prides itself as a stronghold of law and order. Realistically, no one expects our police officers to be like the old-fashioned “Bobby” on the beat in the mould of Dixon of Dock Green, the 1960s television drama where  every policeman was friendly, approachable and considerate, someone a person in distress could confidently turn to and depend upon. PC George Dixon started every show with a reassuring smile, a nod, a soft touch of his policeman’s helmet and a gentle, “Evening all”. Those days are long gone, but surely the principle of feeling safe and secure in the presence of a police officer should remain the same? The continuing disturbing revelations since the conviction of serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, for the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard suggest otherwise. And continuing revelations demonstrate all too graphically that we can no longer complacently fall back on the “one rotten apple” defence. Couzens is said to have been part of a WhatsApp group of officers from various forces who shared grossly offensive, “misogynistic, racist and homophobic” material. The messages were found on his phone after his arrest.

More than 700 allegations of sexual misconduct were made against serving Met police officers over the five-year period up to 2020, and more than half of the officers then subject to disciplinary proceedings and subsequently found guilty remained in their jobs following the decision. The Met has come out badly following the Couzens conviction, doing itself no favours by continually describing the killer as a “former” officer in the build up to the trial. After numerous complaints the wording changed to clarify that Couzens, previously part of an armed response team and in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, was a serving officer at the time of his arrest. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has steadfastly refused calls for her resignation, stating, “My job now is to lead the Met through a difficult time and rebuild that public trust.” But the problem goes far further than the Met, with complaints and allegations of inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct emerging from constabularies throughout the UK. Sue Fish, a former chief constable of Nottinghamshire, has said that policing is “institutionally misogynistic”, not just within the Met, but “structurally, across the country”. Outdated attitudes reinforce those comments. The North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott later apologised but refused to resign after saying in an interview that Sarah Everard should never have “submitted” to Wayne Couzens and that women should be more “streetwise”. Following sustained criticism and a vote of no confidence by his panel, the elected Tory commissioner decided to “do the decent thing” and step down. Change at every level is clearly required with “doing the decent thing” becoming the norm in both attitudes and behaviour.

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