Police officers and staff abusing their position for sexual gain is now the largest form of police corruption, a watchdog has said.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) revealed the number of cases in England and Wales had “risen sharply” in the past three years, warning that perpetrators have “no place in policing”.
Between April 2018 and March 2021, 66 officers and police staff faced misconduct proceedings having been investigated for abusing their position for a sexual purpose, including 42 in the past year alone.
Misconduct was proven in 63 of the cases, with 52 police officers or staff facing gross misconduct proceedings for the worst offences. More than half – 38 – were sacked or retired, as well as barred from working for the police again, the IOPC said.
Seven people were also prosecuted for criminal offences, leading to six convictions. Three were given immediate prison sentences.
The latest figures show a significant increase, with the IOPC investigating 70 police officers and staff over allegations of abuse of position for a sexual purpose (APSP) in the past year, compared with just 10 in 2016.
The IOPC’s deputy director general for operations, Claire Bassett, said: “What these numbers tell us is that this is a very serious form of corruption, but also those police officers that do this will get caught and will suffer significant sanction for that if they do.
“Those that do indulge in this are highly likely to lose their jobs and they may well face criminal sanctions and custodial sentences as a result.
“It’s really important that there is a culture in policing that has a zero tolerance of any form of behaviour that is insulting, is sexist, is homophobic: there is just no place for that in modern policing.”
Describing the behaviour as an “appalling abuse of the public’s trust” which has a “devastating impact” on the often vulnerable people involved, she added: “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.”
Abuse of a position for a sexual purpose was the “single largest form of police corruption”, the IOPC said, making up about a quarter of all corruption referrals last year – almost 60% of investigations.
However, the data does not include action being taken by individual forces carrying out their own disciplinary proceedings into sexual misconduct.
The body’s predecessor – the Independent Police Complaints Commission – found in 2017 that some forces were not treating sexual misconduct as a form of corruption.
The IOPC said the rise could be put down to an increased effort to sanction those responsible, as heightened awareness of the problem led to more cases being reported.
Bassett warned that, 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”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for counter-corruption, chief constable Lauren Poultney, 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.”