The Wayne Couzens case has prompted questions over police disciplinary and misconduct procedures, including when and how officers are sanctioned or sacked.
Six years before Couzens raped and murdered Sarah Everard, he was investigated for an indecent exposure allegation after being accused by a member of the public of driving naked from the waist down.
At the time, he was working as an officer with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Kent-based armed police force in charge of protecting civil nuclear sites. Kent police investigated the claim but decided no further action should be taken. The CNC said it was not informed of any allegations against Couzens, who went on to join the Metropolitan police in 2018, where he again had armed responsibilities.
The handling of the Kent police investigation is subject to an inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
All forces have professional standards departments (PSDs), fictionalised in the BBC drama Line of Duty as “anti-corruption unit 12” or “AC-12”. They record and investigate complaints from members of the public or the force.
Police officers must adhere to codes of conduct and any breach could lead to disciplinary action. PSD officers from the relevant force investigate most complaints and allegations of criminal offences against people serving with the police, although sometimes a chief constable might ask another force to investigate.
Like all criminal investigations, the police will determine whether enough evidence is available to proceed the case to a charge or caution, or whether no further action should be taken. If the police want to proceed with a charge, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision.
Criminal offending by a serving police officer will be dealt with in the same way as with any member of the public: they will face a police caution or charge, and the latter will be dealt with by the courts, magistrate or crown.
A conviction will probably – but not definitely – lead to dismissal after a misconduct hearing. However, the nature of the offending can be taken into account at the misconduct hearing.
All would-be police officers are subjected to vetting. Guidance published by the College of Policing says vetting should identify areas of vulnerability that could damage public confidence in a force or in the wider police service.
It states that allegations of criminal offences should be identified by the vetting procedure. However, an allegation would not unconditionally preclude an officer from joining the force.
“Where the subject has previously come to adverse police attention – for example, been arrested, subject of a criminal allegation, or subject of investigation – but these matters have not resulted in a criminal conviction, a case-by-case assessment will be made,” the guidance states.
Key questions remain. Why did Kent police decide to take no further action against Couzens over the 2015 allegation of indecent exposure? Why was the force for which he worked, the CNC, not informed of the allegation? And why was the allegation not picked up by vetting procedures when he moved to the Met in 2018?