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Fallout from the murder of a British marketing executive should trigger law enforcement reforms across the globe.
Earlier this month, London police officer Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to abduction, rape and murder charges.
In March, Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s house. Couzens stopped Everard and told her she was in violation of COVID-19 lockdown rules.
This was a lie Couzens told for nefarious reasons. His goal was to detain Everard, and he eventually raped and killed her.
Couzens was a decorated officer, often assigned to armed details for the House of Commons, House of Lords and foreign embassies.
However, Everard’s rape and murder isn’t necessarily viewed as completely out of character for Couzens. That’s because his reputation for indecent criminal behavior was widely known, according to Sky News. His colleagues even called him “The Rapist.”
As recently as February, Couzens had previously been charged with exposing his genitals to young women. Met Police are now investigating prior complaints against Couzens to unearth other potential crimes, according to The Independent.
Had we learned from even the recent past, Everard might still be alive. After all, even recent scandals should tell us it’s not a good idea for anyone to essentially investigate themselves.
Couzens’ conviction also brings revelations about other police misconduct. For example, his colleague David Carrick was arrested recently for an alleged September 2020 rape.
According to the Daily Mail, Carrick met his accuser through Tinder. The accuser alleges Carrick lured her to a hotel for drinks, where he bragged about high profile policing assignments. His clout apparently caused her to remain silent after he allegedly raped her. Couzens’ conviction is believed to have spurred her to come forward.
According to the Sunday Mirror, 150 Met officers have convictions for non-sexual offenses, such as assault.
In addition, 26 officers from Couzens’ division alone have been convicted of sex crimes, since 2016, according to the Daily Mail, which invoked the U.K.’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain files. These convictions include rape, possession of child pornography and voyeurism. Five of these offenses occurred while the officer in question was on duty.
To allay concerns about women’s safety while in police custody following Couzens’ sentencing, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick delivered a statement.
Her statement didn’t have the desired effect. She said women or girls should “flag down a bus” if they’re concerned a police officer isn’t acting legitimately. Further, she said when there isn’t a bus or taxi in sight, shout to a passerby, run to a nearby house for help or call the public emergency line.
If you find that baffling, you’re not alone. In response, Ruth Davidson, former Scottish Conservatives leader, tweeted, “If someone (believes) they are in ‘real or imminent danger’ — **from a police officer** — they’ve to flag down a bus or start chapping doors. Horrendous.”
Agreed. Here’s what Dick and other law enforcement officials overlook when they make such statements: We want you to tell us what you’re doing to restore trust in police officers.
It makes me think of “the talk,” a tradition in many African American families, especially where boys are concerned.
As a girl, my dad told me ways I might avoid interactions that could result in violence or sexual assault by anyone able to abuse institutional authority. My recollection is the advice came with an air of somewhat helpless finality; no matter what, I could find myself in a situation in which I had no power.
While it was hard to hear this from my dad, I understood. He wasn’t in control and wanted me to avoid trouble and minimize harm. It was advice for the worst-case scenario. It was not what he would have done if he could create ideal circumstances.
To hear worst-case scenario advice from someone in Dick’s position is astounding. Yes, law enforcement is a tough job; that’s why selection, training and supervision of officers must be above reproach. Likewise, regular review and any necessary corrective measures must be transparent and unequivocal.
Unfortunately, Dick’s statement is eerily familiar to those who have been told “things happen” and it’s ultimately up to us to ensure we aren’t victims of police misconduct.
It’s not uncommon for law enforcement, courts and politicians to imply a woman’s best defense is to avoid offense. And too often, those who bring charges against authority figures are still asked what they did to invite the offense.
It’s time for an end to this rhetorical garbage. In its place, we must install transparent, open review procedures for all those who hold positions of power. Sure, it should have always been that way. That this hasn’t been the case is no reason to wait any longer.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org