You can’t rebuild trust in the police when it’s already lost
LAST April in Lancashire, an interaction was caught on camera between a police officer and a man called Adam. After asking the officer what he had done wrong to justify being threatened with arrest, the officer snapped back: “I’ll make something up. Public order, squaring up to a police officer. Shall I do that? Who are they going to believe, me or you?”
The officer in question wasn’t wearing a body cam at the time, meaning that had someone else not been on hand to catch the incident on their phone, any charges could very much have come down to their word.
It wasn’t so dissimilar from another video that was shared widely online a few months prior of a West Midlands officer stopping Nino Romano and threatening him with arrest after he stated his right not to share personal details with the police without cause.
In both cases, the officers involved were let off with, at worst, a written warning, despite being on the edge of arbitrarily driving a wrecking ball through the lives of those involved had it gone further, and had a ready camera not been on hand.
You don’t need to dig particularly deep or far online to find examples of the police responding with threats and aggression to being challenged over their actions — which is why hearing the Met Police encouraging the public to question police officers in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a serving officer sounds so much like a sick joke.
When police violence is often justified with the suggestion it would never have occurred if the victim had just co-operated, the Met Police cannot seriously think this is an appropriate response to one of their own being convicted of rape and murder.
When stopped by the police, it is farcical to think that running away and flagging down a bus, as has been suggested, would pass without consequence.
When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot and killed by the Metropolitan Police in a London Underground station in 2005, one of the justifications at the time was that he had run from plain-clothes officers. It was later concluded he may have just been speeding up to catch the train as it arrived. Initial reports falsely claimed he had jumped the barrier while in fact, he had time to stop and pick up a free newspaper before his life was unjustly ended at the hands of the police.
From the moment of Wayne Couzens’s sentencing for his unspeakable crimes against Sarah Everard, the Metropolitan Police has quite horrifyingly leapt from interview to interview to do everything it can to separate the killer from his identity as a serving police officer and, further, to shift blame from the force’s failure to address systemic issues of sexism on to the victims of the police themselves.
One detective stated that Couzens’s colleagues did not view him as a police officer who committed murder, but as a murderer who happened to be a police officer. This so belittles the fact Couzens’s crime was dependent on his position within the police, both in terms of the tools he used and the weight of the state that rests on any instructions given by an officer of the law and the very real punishment that can come from defying them.
It is so tone-deaf and simultaneously so indicative of how unwilling the police are to reform or address these issues, wiping their hands clean of the force’s own failures while suggesting the victims of police violence are at fault for complying with them in the first place — a trap wherein compliance and resistance can equally be used against the victim and by extension, where the police can never truly be at fault.
Couzens was allegedly part of a WhatsApp group where officers shared violently sexist, homophobic and racist jokes.
Not too long ago, other officers allegedly took selfies with the bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry after they were murdered in a London park.
Ten Scottish officers, defended by the Scottish Police Federation, cost the force almost £200,000 in a legal fight over a WhatsApp group that shared racist and antisemitic comments and photos of crime scenes. There is a pattern of behaviour within British police forces that screams to us that the problems run far deeper than senior figures will acknowledge.
So when the Met Police says it will have to work hard to rebuild the shattered trust of the public, I’m left wondering: what trust?
There was certainly no trust left after Met officers trampled flowers and messages beneath their boots at Sarah Everard’s vigil, nor while they pinned the women present to the ground.
Nor is there trust among minority and ethnic groups in the UK who can never know if an officer approaching them was, just moments earlier, sharing a racist joke with colleagues on another messaging group.
When it’s now been revealed that the Met didn’t follow up on previous allegations of sexual misconduct against Wayne Couzens — and that a further 26 cops within the Met alone have committed sex crimes since 2016 — what trust can there have been in the first place?
And so I come back again to that challenge from a police officer in Lancashire: “Who are they going to believe, me or you?”. The idea that the solution to the police’s myriad of failures in vetting and holding officers to account is to tell people that they can just decide not to be arrested if they feel uncomfortable is offensively crass to anyone unfairly targeted by the police and to the women who have been sexually harassed by officers of the law.
It is simply a way to once again slide focus off the rotting institution itself, and on to those it has victimised; a story of victim-blaming that all women are more than familiar with.