Police forces should make the prevention, detection and investigation of officers abusing their powers for sexual exploitation a higher priority, says a report published today by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
The report reveals how some police officers have used their positions of trust to abuse and exploit people with whom they come into contact.
The report followed the case of Northumbria police officer Stephen Mitchell, who was jailed for life in 2011 for a number of serious sex attacks on women he met through his job.
The aim of the report is to better equip police forces to tackle the problem and therefore increase public confidence.
Precisely how many people have been victim of such abuse is unclear as only the cases of victims who have come forward are known. Under-reporting may be a significant problem for the police service to address.
The cases examined revealed a number of underlying themes: including the need for effective supervision, vetting and information sharing.
The report urges senior leaders within the police service to determinedly root out this kind of abuse of power. The IPCC and ACPO have produced a checklist of questions and recommendations for police which could prevent or quickly detect similar abuses.
This includes working with organisations that have specialist knowledge of sexual exploitation and abuse. Several of these organisations advised on the findings and recommendations.
The report also identified that this abuse of power is a form of corruption and should be dealt with as such. All cases involving sexual exploitation by officers and police staff should be referred to the IPCC.
Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC, said: "The abuse of police powers for purposes of sexual exploitation, or even violence, is something that fundamentally betrays the trust that communities and individuals place in the police. It therefore has a serious impact on the public’s confidence in individual officers and the service in general.
"Each of the cases in this report is evidence of that. Together, they reveal a number of themes that underlie this kind of behaviour. The report is a first step and it is likely that further work and resources will be required to build on what has already been established. The IPCC will give greater focus to such cases, launching independent investigations wherever possible.
"The police service must do everything in its power to prevent such abuse, identify as soon as possible when cases do occur, deal with them effectively and learn from them.”
ACPO lead on professional standards, Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, said: "It’s vital that the police service acts swiftly to deal with corruption and maintains public trust.
"For this very reason ACPO, working jointly with the IPCC, sought to learn lessons once this particular type of corruption was identified.
"One thing remains clear - all our relationships must meet the highest standards of integrity. This duty falls not only to officers and staff themselves in adhering to behaviour afforded to working in a position of trust, but to colleagues and supervisors in raising and addressing any concerning behaviour.
"Any officer, regardless of rank, that brings the service into disrepute does huge damage to the 140,000 officers that go out every day to deliver a police service with commitment and integrity."
A copy of the report can be found here: http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/reports/2012/201209AbPPtPSV.pdf