Today, on 31 August 2023, it is reported by The Guardian, ITV News and the BBC, that home secretary Suella Braverman has announced a change in the law.
Discover our latest podcast
This change will ‘ensure all officers in England and Wales must be appropriately vetted during their service.’ This law will also make it easier for those who fail this vetting process to be removed from their role in the police.
This massive and possibly meaningful change follows a crime that moved the nation and outraged women everywhere. In March 2021, Sarah Everard was kidnapped in South London. Later, it was proven that her kidnapper, rapist and killer was police officer Wayne Couzens.
Other crimes against women committed by male police officers have since then been uncovered which has plummeted the reputation and level of trust women have in the police force.
The scandals that hurt the police force
At stated above, this reform comes after Sarah Everard was horrifyingly murdered by a police officer Wayne Couzens. To make matters worse, it later came to light that Couzens could have been placed on a ‘sex offender’ list in 2015.
The Guardian reports that ‘despite police having the registration of a car he had allegedly used to flash passersby, as well as his name and address’, Couzens managed to avoid being placed on the sex offender list.
The Guardian writes that, even though Couzens' flashing was reported by a witness as it happened, a sergeant ‘declared the crime was not detectable and there were no outstanding reasonable lines of inquiry.’ Therefore, Couzens was never spoken to or investigated, ignoring the evidence pointed directly at him.
Moreover, in February 2023, a police officer named David Carrick was jailed for life after being found guilty of committing ‘85 serious offences including 48 rapes.’ Carrick is reported to have ‘raped, assaulted and inflicted “irretrievable destruction”’ on at least 12 women who he then intimidated into silence.
During trial, the Judge confronted him and said:
You behaved as if you were untouchable. You were bold and at times relentless, trusting that no victim would overcome her shame and fear to report you. For nearly two decades you were proved right.
This is exactly the kind of culture the reform means to put an end to.
The promises of the police reform
This reform which has been called for, promises a few amazing changes. Indeed, according to The Guardian, it means to ‘automatically result in a police officer’s dismissal’ if there are any findings of ‘gross misconduct’.
Moreover, this reform aims to give more power to chief constables and senior officers and will allow them to be more reactive. They will now be able to ‘chair independent public hearings responsible for removing corrupt officers’.
Home secretary Suella Braverman said:
Corrupt police officers and those who behave poorly or fail vetting must be kicked out of our forces. For too long our police chiefs have not had the powers they need to root out those who have no place wearing the uniform.
The reform also focuses a lot on the vetting process which new recruits have to go through. A report done after an investigation triggered by the Sarah Everard case has shone a light on the weakness of the police's vetting process.
In it, inspector of constabulary, Martin Parr, expressed that bosses in the police didn't fully grasp 'the danger to the public caused by not having a significantly more rigorous process for identifying who shouldn’t join and who shouldn’t stay.’
The report and Mr Parr are both very critical of the visible correlation between the fact that the government wants more police officers and the ‘standards’ of who gets hired. Mr Parr states that theycannot be lowered.
Read more: Undercover cops surveil nightclubs to catch sex offenders
What this reform could mean for women
The inspection led by Martin Parr concluded that:
a culture of misogyny, sexism and predatory behaviour towards female staff and members of the public is still “prevalent” in many forces.
This 'prevalent' culture led to many people either not reporting crimes and/or abuse committed by police officers or being dismissed when they did so. In November 2022, ITV News spoke to two women. The first is a member of the force who dated a senior officer. During their relationship, the woman says that she was abused and that even though her partner was fired, she was never able to press criminal charges.
The second woman, married to a police officer, says that when she reported the crimes she wasn’t taken seriously.
When the officers come over they gloat. They make comments that they share the canteen with your spouse or they work in the same building. It's all under one umbrella and it's very corrupt.
It's very unfair for the survivors who try to come forward. They're never going to get a fair investigation.
The inspection that followed Everard’s murder also rushed a change within the culture in order to both make women and the public trust the police.
Mr Parr said chief constables and police leaders are ‘failing to appreciate the damage to their reputation.' Not only that, a large part of his investigation revealed ‘an “alarming number” of women’ who allege ‘appalling behaviour by male colleagues.’
The government seems to have taken this report into serious consideration with both Prime Minister Sunak and Home Secretary Braverman supporting the changes called upon by it.
The Home Secretary said:
I have been clear that culture and standards in the police need to change and the public’s trust in policing restored (...) Chief constables must learn these lessons and act on the findings of this report as a matter of urgency.
She also stated that it was ‘unacceptable’ that women ‘continue to experience misogynistic and sexist behaviour.’
Hopefully this reform will lead to tangible change and mean that women inside and outside the force feel empowered and safe to report crimes committed by members of the police.
This reform also has the opportunity to encourage concrete and thorough investigations by the police concerning its own employees.
The Guardian: David Carrick jailed for life over series of rapes while Met police officer
The Guardian: Police in England and Wales guilty of gross misconduct face automatic dismissal
The Guardian: Wayne Couzens could have been identified as a sex offender in 2015, report says
ITV News: Vetting failings could mean ‘thousands’ of corrupt officers in police