Policing in the Aftermath of Sarah Everard’s Murder: Is Institutional Change Necessary?
It has been eight months since an off duty policeman kidnapped, assaulted and murdered 33-year-old Sarah Everard, and the UK as a whole is still feeling the devastation of such a tragic death. What was most shocking however, was the calculated and meticulous way in which an off duty policeman was able to commit such a crime, and how he was able to go undetected as a threat to women for so long.
After his arrest, articles came flooding out about Sarah’s killer, exposing him as a dangerous sexual predator, who had previous for flashing and exchanging sexist and racist messages with other Metropolitan Police officers. These articles, along with Sarah’s death, prompted the British public to call for institutional change within the police force. However, is this necessary, and would it even be effective?
In order for institutional change to be effective, and to determine whether it is necessary, we would first need to establish what we want to achieve through change.
If our goal is to stop women being murdered, the sad reality is that will never be achievable. Whilst we live in a society where misogyny is still rife, so will crime against women; much like until we are rid of racism, we will not be rid of hate crimes. As disheartening as that is, it is the undeniable truth.
But, if what we’re wanting to achieve is a police force devoid of people like Sarah’s killer, institutional change could be deemed necessary, and effective. In order to achieve this we would need to see changes, such as a more rigorous and in-depth vetting process, and reports about police officers being taken seriously. Changes like this would mean the officers who exchanged explicit messages with Sarah’s killer would be investigated and potentially suspended or fired. Institutional change like this would aim to result in stamping out misogyny and racism within the force and create a police force no longer described as ‘a boy’s club.’
However, there is an even larger question we need to be asking ourselves, before we determine if institutional change is necessary. Is Sarah‘s killer representative of the police force as a whole? Do the bad officers outnumber the good officers? Or are a few bad officers ruining the reputation of an otherwise good police force?
If we believe the police force as a whole is innately bad - filled with officers who will not serve and protect the British public - then there is an argument for the necessity of institutional change. If the force cannot fulfil the role it is meant to, then it is no longer an effective or helpful part of our society. This is certainly the opinion of some of the British public; in the wake of Sarah’s death, social media was filled with phrases such as: “ACAB” (all cops are bastards,) and “defund the police.” This suggests we feel institutional change is necessary.
However, what is forgotten when these phrases are used, is that the individual officers in the force can only do so much. One lone police officer does not have the power to bring about change on a large scale within the force. A much more effective way to bring about change would be to commit to hiring officers dedicated to making a change; officers committed to stamping out racism and misogyny within the police force.
While it is undeniable that the police failed Sarah Everard, and allowed her killer to work in a position of authority unchecked, ultimately, it is very difficult to say either way whether institutional change within the police force is necessary. Much of the British public do not work in the force, and therefore do not see what change is being made silently, behind closed doors. As figures of authority, the police should be trusted by the general public and if institutional change is what needs to happen in order for that to occur, then change it must. But what we need to first determine, is whether we do believe that all cops are bastards.