Serving police officer Wayne Couzens used COVID-19 legislation to falsely arrest Sarah Everard. Since this information became public knowledge, it has sparked a lot of questions on how something like this could happen.
It is very easy to say things like “why was she not suspicious of him being alone?” or “why did she not question him more?” or even things like “if that was me I would have just walked away.” It is so easy to conclude this while having never been in a situation like Everard.
The problem is that the police are here to serve and protect. We have always been taught to blindly trust the police because after all, they are here to enforce the law, not break it. But what happens now that a police officer has grossly misused his power to commit such a crime?
Police commissioner Philip Allott said “women need to be more streetwise” in regards to powers of arrest. This, of course, is a ridiculous and not to mention insensitive statement to make. He has since resigned.
However, it begs the question, if the police are willing to do nothing or very little about the protection of women against police officers like Couzens, what more can be done?
Being well versed on what your rights are is now more important than ever.
There are two types of stops a police officer can perform: a stop and question and a stop and search. The two are very different and it is critical to know what you can or cannot do if you find yourself in either situation.
Stop and question
If a police officer stops you, they may ask what your name is, what you are doing in the area or where you are going. You do not have to answer any of these questions and can choose to walk away. If there is no reason to suspect you of any crime, you cannot be arrested for walking away.
Stop and search
A police officer can stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying any of the following: illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something that can be used to commit a crime. Before a search begins, the police officer must tell you their name and station, what they expect to find, the reason they want to search you, why they are legally allowed to search you and that you can have a record of the search.
Removing clothes in a stop and search
A police officer can tell you to remove your coat, jacket or gloves. You could also be asked to remove other clothing items including those worn for religious purposes. If you are asked to do this you must be taken out of public view. Finally, if an officer wants to remove more than a coat/jacket or gloves, then they must be the same sex as you.
There is more information on your rights on the government website. This gives much more detail than the metropolitan police website.
What happened to Everard was an absolute tragedy and no fault of her own, but rather the calculated actions of a police officer who should have never been allowed to join the force.
Unfortunately, the metropolitan police’s reaction to Everard being falsely arrested has been nothing short of a joke. We are being told to run away from police officers (resisting arrest is an offence) to then call, yes that is right, the police. We are being told to run away from officers and flag down bus drivers and I do not know about you, but I have had bus drivers drive past me while I have been waiting at the bus stop.
The police are offering nothing but useless advice that does not stop this from happening again. Allott was completely wrong in saying that “women need to be more streetwise,” it is victim blaming at its finest. However, what else can we do? If the police are not willing to have a complete overhaul in the way they screen new officers or how they respond to complaints against officers, it feels like what happened to Everard can happen again.
Most of us know our rights, but now it feels like we need to be experts. It feels like we need to protect ourselves from the police which, when you think about it, is absurd considering they are there to protect us. I can only hope that what happened to Everard never happens again. Moving forward I can only urge women to look out for one another and make sure we know what our rights are if we are ever stopped.