Officers abusing status for sex is ‘biggest form of police corruption’

·3 min read
Police - RFStock
Police - RFStock

Officers abusing their position for sex is the "single largest form of police corruption", a watchdog has said.

The number of officers and staff facing disciplinary action over allegations that they abused their position for sexual purposes has "risen sharply" over the last three years, according to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Last year, there were 70 such investigations, compared with 10 in 2016.

Abuse of position for a sexual purpose is the "single largest form of police corruption" the IOPC deals with, accounting for around a quarter of all corruption referrals last year, the organisation said on Monday.

In many cases, the actions may appear "harmless at first", such as sending messages from a personal phone or putting kisses at the end of a text message, but this could be the "start of a pattern of escalating behaviour", said Claire Bassett, the IOPC deputy director general.

Of 52 who faced gross misconduct proceedings, 38 are no longer serving

In 2017, changes were made by the IOPC's predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, after it was found that some forces were not treating such cases as a form of corruption. The changes led to a "significant and sustained rise in the number of referrals and independent investigations", the IOPC said.

Between April 2018 and March this year, 66 police officers faced misconduct proceedings after being investigated. Some 42 of these were in the last year alone, and misconduct was proven in 63 of the cases. Of the 52 who faced gross misconduct proceedings, 38 are no longer serving and were barred from working in policing again.

In that time, seven police officers or staff were also prosecuted for criminal offences, leading to six convictions of which three resulted in an immediate custodial sentence, the IOPC said.

The watchdog – which put the rise in disciplinary action down to an increased effort to sanction those responsible – warned that such individuals had "no place in policing and will be found out".

‘Policing must root out this kind of behaviour’

Ms Bassett said: "This kind of behaviour is an appalling abuse of the public's trust and has a devastating impact on the people involved, who are often in a vulnerable situation. The police are there to help them, not exploit them.

"We are seeing how our work is helping tackle the problem – corrupt officers have been dismissed and convicted. We have also made a number of recommendations to help police forces spot and tackle this behaviour.

"Recent events we have seen, including the horrific actions of Wayne Couzens, remind us that policing must act to root out this kind of behaviour once and for all."

Ms Bassett said this was "not a new problem, and while there is a clear desire right across policing to tackle this, and progress has been made, there is still a lot to do".

She added: "Each case threatens to undermine the trust the vast majority of officers work extremely hard to build. It is in everyone's interest to root out those who abuse their position, and it is vital that anyone who experiences or witnesses this kind of unacceptable behaviour feels empowered to speak up."

The data does not provide a complete picture of all action being taken, as forces can also carry out their own investigations.

Chief Constable Lauren Poultney, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for counter-corruption, said: "The figures released by the Independent Office for Police Conduct will cause concern. I want to emphasise that we are working hard to root out those who are attracted to policing for the wrong reasons."

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