The number of police officers being reported for abusing their role for sexual gain has soared in the past year following changes to strengthen how the issue is investigated.
Two thirds of the cases investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) between 2018 and 2021 happened in the past year.
The IOPC’s Deputy Director General Claire Bassett says it’s proof that allegations of sexual abuse are taken “very seriously”.
“Those figures have gone up because it has become a mandatory referral, so people have to report it to us now,” she said.
“But we would hope it also reflects an increased awareness where we are seeing fellow officers, for example, reporting people who they believe might be doing that.”
From 2018 to 2021, 66 officers and members of police staff faced disciplinary proceedings for alleged “abuse of position for a sexual purpose” or APSP.
Of those, 42 occurred in the past year.
In 63 of the 66 cases, misconduct was proven with six people convicted of crimes, three of whom were jailed.
The increase in individuals being investigated comes at a time when trust in police has been seriously eroded.
Wayne Couzens pretended to be on duty when he kidnapped 33-year-old Sarah Everard, before raping and then murdering her earlier this year.
He is now serving a whole life sentence after admitting his crimes.
Other cases of alleged serious sexual offences by officers are currently going through the court system.
But despite the increase in cases being investigated, Jessica [not her real name], who had no idea she was in a year-long relationship with an undercover officer back in the 90s, is unconvinced.
“If they break the law, then surely there should be absolutely zero tolerance policy,” she said.
“Far too many police officers that have done something wrong – it’s sort of swept under the carpet. There’s the sort of the policy of ‘the old boys club’.”
She added that too many officers leave the police rather than take the consequences of their actions.
“There needs to be proper accountability to actually stop officers resigning rather than facing misconduct hearings,” she said.
Of the 63 cases, in which misconduct was proved, 29 individuals were dismissed and 10 resigned prior to their hearing.
Anna Birley from the campaign group Reclaim These Streets, which organised a vigil on Clapham Common following Sarah’s murder, believes more needs to be done to identify those who pose a risk.
“If we are only measuring incidences of harassment and violence, we’re missing all of the warning signs and essentially this report from the IOPC talks about sexual offences, where an officer abuses their power, but that’s the worst case scenario,” she said.
“Before that point that officer has probably done things which make women uncomfortable. Wayne Couzen’s nickname was ‘the rapist’.”
Ms Bassett said the IOPC is already challenging “very inappropriate content on social media and network groups”.
“We see sexist or misogynistic language, homophobic jokes that sort of thing,” she said.
“We have seen some officers reporting fellow officers and we’d like to see much more of that.
“We’d like to see a zero tolerance of this sort of behaviour and we think if we root out that and change the culture, that will have an impact across the board.”
Alleged cases of APSP currently make up nearly 60% of investigations by the IOPC.
But the data does not provide a complete picture of all action being taken as forces can also carry out their own inquiries.
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