More than 250 allegations of sexual misconduct were made against police officers in England and Wales during the last year, according to the police watchdog.
The complaints were made between April 2020 and March 2021 - covering the month Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving Met Police officer.
According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), complainants, who are not always the victim, alledged that there were 251 seperate incidents of sexually-related misconduct and abuse of power for sexual purposes.
The National Police Chief Council insists forces are "responding unequivocally" to allegations of police-perpetrated abuse. It has called on members of staff to report bad behaviour.
However, former chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, Susannah Fish, said those who are courageous enough to speak out are often marginalised, ignored and victimised by colleagues.
‘We cannot accept piecemeal reforms’
It comes one year since Sarah Everard, 33, was murdered by Wayne Couzens in March 2021.
The 48-year-old used his handcuffs and warrant card to snatch Ms Everard as she walked home from visiting a friend in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March, 2021.
During 2020-21, people submitting complaints about officers at the 43 police forces across England and Wales made 109,151 separate allegations of bad behaviour, including complaints around discriminatory behaviour and stop and search.
The data refers to complaints submitted to and logged by police forces. The IOPC collects the data from them and publishes it.
A single complaint could contain multiple separate allegations.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) said: “The police hold a particular position of power and authority and as such, they must be held to the very highest standards of accountability.
“These issues are also not confined to one police force area - and so we cannot accept superficial, piecemeal reforms that do nothing to challenge or address the systemic cultures of racism and misogyny that enable officers to perpetrate harm and face little meaningful consequence.”
Half of sex-based incidents reported are sexual assaults
Almost 200 allegations (199) categorised as ‘sexual conduct’ were reported to 37 - out of 43 - police forces. Sexual conduct incidents encompass three sub-categories – sexual harassment, sexual abuse and other sexual conduct.
More than half of alleged sexual conduct incidents concerned assault (128).
There were also 23 alleged incidents of sexual harassment and 48 of other sexual conduct.
Elsewhere, the figures reveal 52 alleged incidents of officers abusing their position for sexual purposes, a type of allegation that comes under the category of ‘abuse of position or corruption’ rather than ‘sexual conduct’.
That gives 251 allegations of a sexual nature in total.
‘More misconduct will be discovered’
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said in the past year “appalling examples” of behaviour of police officers have come to light and there is deep public concern about what these events say about policing
A spokesperson said: “Misogynistic, racist or disrespectful attitudes and behaviours that exist in society exist in policing too. It matters more in policing because we hold intrusive powers, and our legitimacy is built on public confidence.
“Forces are removing or sanctioning officers and staff who fall below our standards.Everyone in policing needs to contribute to an inclusive, professional, and ethical culture.”
The police force urges staff to challenge and report behaviour that betrays professional standards - and will be reviewing the Vetting Code of Practice.
It added: “As a result of shining a light, more misconduct will be discovered, more officers will be sanctioned, leave the service or even be charged and convicted of crimes.
“Chiefs are acting to ensure the right culture in their forces and are strengthening the processes in place to open up conversations and listen to views from both inside and outside policing.”
Those who speak out ‘marginalised’ in the police force
Former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, Susannah Fish, said while bad behaviour should be called out, police are often treated poorly if they report their concerns.
She said it remains really difficult to challenge bad behaviour because staff feel like they will be shunned by colleagues.
She told NationalWorld: “Policies and processes are in place, however the behaviour of those who take reports from those courageous enough to speak out often minimise, negate, suggest it will be hard for the victim.
“They tell them there is insufficient evidence, victim blame, say they know the alleged offender and that he (usually is male) is a great guy or a good cop.”
Often those that report concerning behaviour will also be investigated, which can be worrying.
She added: “More are speaking out now but do not under-estimate the challenges and their bravery in simply doing the right thing.”
Most sexual misconduct cases alleged against Met Police officers
Of the 251 allegations, 141 were finalised in 2020/21 – meaning a decision on an outcome had been reached, and the complainant notified of the decision and any planned action.
Of these finalised cases, 10 were handled informally and 131 formally under relevant legislation on police conduct. Of those handled formally, 39 were subject to a full investigation – a process reserved for more serious allegations that cannot be handled quickly.
The IOPC data does not reveal the outcome of sexual misconduct allegations or action taken.
The Metropolitan Police force topped the table with the most allegations concerning sexual conduct (excluding abuse of power for sexual purposes), although it is the biggest force in the country.
The Met Police recorded 31, Greater Manchester logged 20 allegations, while Hampshire, Northumbria and West Yorkshire each reported 16 allegations.
Sexual assault allegations up by almost 20% year-on-year
The police watchdog also recorded a significant spike in allegations of sexual assault year-on-year.
Allegations increased between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 by 17%.
In 2019-2021, 109 allegations were made against police officers in England and Wales - although no local breakdown was given by force.
This jumped by 19 more cases in 2020-2021, although methods used by police forces to collect data had changed and the IOPC cautions against comparing figures year-on-year.
Sexual assault was the only category which continued to exist in the latest data.
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