Expert blog: Cops who Kill - providing psychology expertise for a new true crime series
Serena Simmons, psychologist in the School of Social Sciences, talks about her role in a new documentary series which analyses several cases where police officers have been convicted of murder.
On the 3 March 2021, in the midst of the third UK national lockdown, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old female who worked as a marketing executive based in London, went missing.
Her boyfriend raised the alarm the next day when he hadn’t been able to reach her, and things soon escalated as the Metropolitan Police launched a missing persons appeal two days later.
As part of the extensive search for Sarah, CCTV footage from the area she had walked was scoured and officers happened upon footage of what seemed to be Sarah talking to a man. In the grainy pictures, that so many will now be sadly familiar with, Sarah can be seen calmly talking to the man; though it was actually a couple driving by who witnessed Sarah putting her arms behind her back to be handcuffed and then was seen being led to a car. Dash-cam footage from another passing car, later confirmed she had indeed entered the vehicle.
Police were able to trace the car back to a rental agency, booked under the name Wayne Couzens - a Metropolitan Police officer. Could this really be the man responsible for Sarah’s disappearance or had this been a mistake? Couzens had indeed been responsible, and her body was sadly found not far from land that Couzens himself owned. Thus signifying a tragic end of this young woman’s life.
There are so many aspects of this story that warrant attention. The case itself for example sparked a national outrage regarding the safety of women in public spaces as well as violence towards women. It also brought to light issues in policing, including the rights of single officers and their ability to stop members of the public. Another big and indeed obvious question for many is how could a police officer do this?
Are police officers not hard-wired to protect and create a safe place for us? Is this not why they enter the profession in the first place?
Well, it’s pertinent to note here that this may well be the driving force behind the career choice of many and I would hasten to add, the majority of upstanding officers. The same officers who were as disgusted as the general public regarding the actions of Couzens. And lest we forget the same officers who showed exceptional deductive powers and passion for solving this very crime.
However, the question remains, why would a police officer kill? As a psychologist who has specialised in murder for many years, I was asked this very question, not just of this particular case, but of a further seven cases where police officers had been the perpetrator.
My answers to the questions posed about these offenders was filmed as an eight-part documentary series with ITN Productions last year for the Crime & Investigation channel, with the series released on Monday 6 March.
In each episode you will see the focus on one officer responsible for murder. Presented by Will Mellor, I help as part of a team of other experts, to deconstruct each case, profile the offender and help to make sense of the psychological underpinnings of the crime and the act.
What you will begin to see are the similarities in cases, where there has been a clear abuse of power, taking advantage of networks and policing knowledge and a keen sense of being ‘untouchable’, certainly in the view that their fellow officers would never suspect them of such behaviour, and therefore they would ‘get away with it’.
We also take time to look in detail at how each crime was carried out, and how each and every officer made some attempt to cover their tracks.
I was utterly impressed with the professionalism of the team I worked with on this project, where the utmost respect was given at all times to the victims and their families. And there was a true desire to have myself and the other experts involved really take time to deconstruct why these crimes were committed.
I hope that these episodes help to make sense of the questions I know many people have about why people kill, and in this case help to make sense of that very particular and specialist offender, the police officer.
Serena Simmons, senior lecturer in Psychology, School of Social Sciences
* What: Cops Who Kill
* Where to watch: Crime & Investigation Channel | Sky 156 | Sky Glass / Stream 142 | Virgin TV | Amazon | Apple TV
* Watch the trailer: https://www.crimeandinvestigation.co.uk/shows/cops-who-kill