Anna’s Blog – The Rise of Police Violence
Police violence has long been acknowledged as a substantial problem in countries across the world. There have been a seemingly endless number of incidents in recent years, including those in the US with the shooting of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner to sadly name a few of many. In recent weeks, France has made the news too, following the violent response of the French police against protestors demonstrating against widely unpopular pension reforms.
Many cases of police violence often display an actively racist and misogynystic prejudice within law enforcement. There has been a widespread movement against police violence, as seen in the worldwide protests for Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd in particular, but despite public outrage, such cases continue with alarming regularity.
What is less well known, and less challenged, are incidents of police violence within the UK. The number of people harassed, attacked, and in some cases murdered, by police officers has been exposed here in recent years too, with a number of high profile cases which have resulted in public outcry. This includes the murder of Sarah Everard, the unwarranted strip-search of an unnamed 15-year-old schoolgirl in London for “smelling like weed”, and the shooting of Chris Kaba which is still undergoing investigation. Recently, a serving Met Police officer David Carrick was revealed to be a serial rapist, and has been found guilty of over 49 incidents of sexual violence over his two decades of service.
These high profile cases are representative of many more acts of police violence against members of the public, and are indicative of wider issues within the police force at large. In each of these cases, officers abused their power and status as officers to inflict harm. In a recent YouGov poll which asked if the British public has confidence in the police to deal with crime in their local area, more people are unconfident in the police (48%) than confident (43%). This has deteriorated following Sarah Everard’s case, and with more coming to light, confidence is likely to drop further.
The leniency afforded to officers either before, during, or after their acts of violence against members of the public goes some way to showing how this culture has become embedded. For example, in the years predating Sarah Everard’s death, her murderer Wayne Couzens was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ by colleagues because he made “some female colleagues uncomfortable.” In the months following the investigation, it was uncovered that two additional officers had previously been part of a WhatsApp group with Couzens, in which they shared racist, homophobic, misogynistic and ableist messages with each other. These offences wouldn’t have come to light if not for the in-depth investigation into Couzens, indicating that there are even more cases of internal prejudice that the public, and the police force itself, aren’t privy to. Currently, the Met Police is investigating almost 1,100 sexual and domestic abuse claims against 800 of its officers according to Met Commissioner Rawley.
The high profile cases of Kaba and Everard led to an internal investigation of the Metropolitan Police Service conducted by Lady Louise Casey. Casey’s interim report was published in October 2022 and found that there were an abundance of issues within the police force which need to be addressed immediately. Over 600 ongoing cases of sexual misconduct against police officers were identified and according to a Guardian source, “more than half of the Met officers found guilty of sexual misconduct over a four-year period up to 2020 kept their jobs.” The report also found that there were nearly 16,000 complaints submitted against officers, with only 33% of them classed as misconduct or gross misconduct.
Lady Casey’s full report was published in late March this year, concluding that the Met police force is institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic. She also stated that “many of the issues raised by the Review are far from new.” She highlighted Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence which flagged the organisation’s prejudice as far back as 1999 and that “many people have been raising grave concerns about the Met for much longer than that.”
In the opening pages of the report, Casey states that:
“Policing needs to accept that the job can also attract predators and bullies- those who want power over their fellow citizens, and to use those powers to cause harm and discriminate.” The Met has “failed over time to ensure the integrity of its officers and therefore of the organisation. Despite the obvious signals of major failure – with heinous crimes perpetrated by serving Met officers – it did not stop to question its processes.”
Casey also highlighted the issues discussed in this blog surrounding police suspension and appropriate repercussions following violence or inappropriate behaviour: “Concerns raised through the misconduct or complaints process are not well recorded and are more likely to be dismissed than acted upon.[…] Time and time again, those complaining are not believed or reported. […] Behaviour which in most other organisations would lead to instant dismissal or serious disciplinary action is too often addressed through ‘management action’ or ‘reflective practice.”
Casey’s report also pointed out that of the thousands of complaints, 563 were submitted for breaching rules around equality and diversity, resulting action finalised, and only 20% of that number found to be misconduct or gross misconduct. A further 753 allegations against officers were flagged with race, religion or faith as a factor, and only 17% were found to be misconduct or gross misconduct.
Imagine you are driving along and a car with no lights or sirens, follows you, demands you pull over by driving closely to you, and then shoots through the windscreen when you do. You might think this couldn’t happen in the UK, except it did. Chris Kaba was followed by officers who never declared themselves, and murdered an unarmed man. In an article from The Metro, “Some 10% of those who died in or following police custody in England and Wales in the last decade were black, Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) data shows.” In the latest ‘Stop and Search’ report by the Government, it was found that there were ‘7.5 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 52.6 for every 1,000 Black people’.
In the UK, the public’s outcry at the shocking behaviour of police officers in London led to the resignation of Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, with Sir Mark Rawley taking her stead. Following a BBC Newsnight report, Rawley proclaimed that he will be “ruthless in rooting out these corrupting officers and staff, including racists and misogynists from our organisation.” He has also committed to overhauling the culture in the police force, and is encouraging officers to “call out bad behaviour when they witness it.” In the same vein, it has recently been announced since the revelation of David Carrick’s string of sexual assaults, that all police forces in the country have now also been ordered “to search for sexual predators and domestic abusers in their ranks.” Carrick was employed by the Met despite being a prior suspect in criminal activities of burglary and malicious communication against his former partner in 2000. He was also investigated for domestic violence in 2002, 2004, and 2009 while he was serving with no actions taken against himr. This has led to calls for a stronger vetting process before hiring future officers, and for stricter punishments for serving officers too.
While a movement towards weeding out prejudicial and unprofessional misconduct in the force is obviously needed, more needs to be done in law enforcement across the UK to dismantle the culture of violence and prejudice which has allowed people like Carrick, Couzens, and Rawley to abuse their positions of power. The call to action has never been louder, and the UK Government need to listen. The cases discussed and others like it have damaged trust in the police within communities, and so the system of punishment needs to be redesigned to hold police to a higher standard than those they are policing, rather than ‘closing ranks’ to protect perpetrators and their image. It is our hope that Lady Casey’s report and its crushing statistics on the failings of the Met Police lights a fire that calls for better policing of the police themselves.