How widespread is sexual misconduct in the police?

People clash with police as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets v

People clash with police as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled. Serving police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, has appeared in court charged with kidnapping and killing the marketing executive, who went missing while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on March 3. Picture date: Saturday March 13, 2021. - Credit: PA

More than 30 allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Suffolk police officers in the past five years. Complaints include making sexually inappropriate comments and sending text messages and images. 

The 33 complaints, revealed in Freedom of Information requests, resulted in six misconduct hearings with three officers being reprimanded, but only one was dismissed. In another case the officer resigned before the hearing.  

These allegations only involve a very small proportion of officers since Suffolk Constabulary employs approximately 1,100 police officers. 

But the figures come amid fresh focus on police conduct after the kidnap, rape and killing of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens in March this year. 

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was cancelled - Credit: PA Wire

The case has raised questions about how police forces deal with sexual misconduct amongst their own rank and file after it emerged that Couzens was referred to by his own colleagues as “the rapist”. Three days before he kidnapped the marketing executive in south London, Couzens also allegedly exposed himself in a McDonald's restaurant.

Speaking about the figure's in Suffolk, deputy chief constable Rachel Kearton said: “Suffolk Constabulary takes allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously given the nature of the role of those who work in the police in a trusted position. 

DCC Rachel Kearton said she was very pleased with the report overall Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

DCC Rachel Kearton said she was very pleased with the report overall Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY - Credit: Archant

“We have robust processes in place to deal with complaints and allegations made against officers and those in police roles.”

Most Read

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, who is responsible for holding the police to account, said: “I want to reassure everybody that it is taken extremely seriously.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, has urged residents to contine respecting the

Tim Passmore, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, has urged residents to contine respecting the lockdown Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

“The top level of sanctions are taken for anyone found guilty of such misdemeanours.”

He added: “Suffolk officers are horrified, dismayed and some of them actually quite angry that one or two individuals in the force can besmirch the name of the Constabulary."

An ex-Suffolk police officer was found to have breached standards of professional behaviour in a misconduct hearing in September after he hit a female colleague on the backside with a coat hanger.

But the officer faced no further action because he had already retired from the force. 

Another ex-Suffolk Police officer, PC Matthew Lusher, was found to have committed gross misconduct at a hearing last year after he was alleged to have abused his position for sexual purposes, breached confidentiality and potentially compromised a criminal investigation. 

Lusher was alleged to have engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who he met after responding to a report of domestic violence and would have been dismissed had he not resigned before a special case hearing found him guilty. 

Deniz Uğur, deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “The police hold a particular position of power and must therefore be held to the very highest standards of conduct.

“While investigations into allegations of abuse are welcome, it shouldn’t have to get to this stage.”

Data shows that in most complaints and conduct cases, where gender was recorded, the allegations were against male officers.  

Most of the allegations were made against constables, however six allegations between 2016 and 2021 were against sergeants. 

In the majority of cases the officer against whom the allegation was made was on duty when the alleged misconduct took place. 

Sophie Khan, director of national charity the Police Action Centre said: “This has been an issue that has been affecting members of the public but also women police officers for a very long time and it's only because of the sad death of Sarah Everard that this has come to the fore.”

The death of Sarah Everard has prompted a national outcry around women's safety

The death of Sarah Everard has prompted a national outcry around women's safety - Credit: PA

Freedom of Information requests also reveal that 18 Suffolk police officers or members of police staff were investigated for breaching police guidelines on social media use between 2015 and 2021.

Five officers or members of staff were given written warnings, three were given final written warnings and one was dismissed, while another resigned prior to the misconduct hearing. 

What are police doing about this issue?

Suffolk police  have introduced new ‘abuse of position for sexual purpose’ training, and staff and officers also attend presentations by the force’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) on sexual misconduct and abuse of position.

They also give training to external support agencies on this topic.

The force also provides PSD staff with specific training on abuse of position for sexual purposes.

Female officers are well represented within the force, police said, making up the majority of new recruits and over a third of officers and staff at a Superintendent level or equivalent. The constabulary has an internal network called Suffolk Association for Women in Policing that promotes the interests of women in the force.

PCC Tim Passmore insists that a huge amount is being done to address the issue of violence against women and girls, including last month’s launch of two new Kestrel teams- rapid teams within the local policing command which deal with issues such as street safety.

How do misconduct panels work?

Complaints about police misconduct are initially dealt with by the police force themselves.

Each force has a professional standards department, usually referred to as PSD.

They can then refer the complaint to the national police watchdog called the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

The IOPC will investigate it, alongside the police force, and decide if the officer has a case to answer.

If they do then the police force the officer works for sets up a misconduct hearing which is chaired by an independent person.  

Since 2015 these have been held in public, with the aim of making the process more transparent. Journalists can attend and often report on the hearing.  

However, in some cases the misconduct panel will order that the officer’s name is not published.

The panel hears evidence from both sides and then decides if the case against the officer has been proven.

If it has, they will decide what the punishment should be, varying from dismissal, for the most serious offences, to training or written warnings.