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Police forces slow to act on sexual corruption

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Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, HMICFRS, report, Shining a light on betrayal: abuse of position for a sexual purpose.And more than 10 per cent of the police workforce did not have up-to-date vetting, says report.

Police forces need to do more to ensure they are able to detect and root-out ‘abuse of position for a sexual purpose’ by officers and staff, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has said in a report published last week.

Abuse of position for a sexual purpose is defined as:

‘any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public’.

HMICFRS inspected how forces were tackling this crime in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and over those periods found that most forces have been slow to take the steps necessary to root out this type of corruption.

To read the 2017 report, click here.

As part of its ongoing annual assessments of police forces in England and Wales, HMICFRS followed up how forces had progressed since 2017.

In a spotlight report in May 2019,  HMICFRS described their concerns about the progress forces were making in tackling the problem. This report examines this important theme in greater detail.

HMICFRS said it had seen some encouraging progress and an improved understanding of the problem across the whole of the police workforce. Inspectors have also seen examples of forces being proactive and creative in looking for signs of corruption. And they carry out this work using relatively modest resources.

However, while HMICFRS found excellent work in some forces, others are lagging far behind.

Vetting is the first line of defence for forces. But HMICFRS estimated that more than 10 per cent of the police workforce did not have up-to-date vetting.

Forces need dedicated resources to proactively look for warning signs and develop intelligence – but two-thirds of forces had insufficient capacity in their counter-corruption units.

Forces need to be able to proactively detect misuse of their ICT systems and the information they hold – but two-thirds of forces do not yet have full ICT monitoring on their systems.

These forces have not invested the necessary resources and they are not proactive enough in looking for corruption.

The report published this year makes a number of recommendations for forces to help them improve tackling this form of corruption and abuse.

There are, it said, several areas where there needs to be further progress.

Forces should:

be more proactive in looking for the signs of officers and staff abusing their position for a sexual purpose;

have enough staff to do this;

have the right tools, such as monitoring software that allows them to easilysee the records staff are accessing and the contact they have with victims and other vulnerable people; and

form more effective relationships with those agencies who support vulnerable people and who are most likely to become aware of the early warning signs of grooming before abuse takes place.

In addtion, HMICFS said it was still deeply concerned by the proportion of people working in forces who do not have the correct vetting. They are also concerned that some forces can not provide clear information on who is vetted, who is not and what roles they occupy.

All forces agreed national standards for vetting in 2006. They have had over a decade to make sure everyone has the correct vetting. Some forces are in a very strong position and have taken the necessary steps. Others have not.

The government has recently announced a recruitment drive for 20,000 police officers over the next three years.

With natural wastage as people leave the service, this means many more will need to be recruited to meet this target. This makes it even more vital that vetting units are fit for purpose, or they won’t be able to cope with the demand and vetting standards may fall.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said: “It is important to recognise that this sort of abuse of power is thankfully incredibly rare, and the vast majority of officers and staff are dedicated public servants who would never contemplate this inexcusable behaviour.

“Nonetheless, even one instance of abuse of position for a sexual purpose is one too many.

“It is an appalling betrayal of often vulnerable people, and can be devastating to those who fall prey to it.

“Although the numbers of people involved are small, forces must do all they can to prevent, detect and deal with this serious form of corruption.

“We have been urging the police to act on this issue for some years now. Many forces have listened and are already making changes.

“But I’ve been deeply disappointed to find that others have, after all this time, still not put some basic measures in place.

“Forces should reflect on the findings of this report and take action: to maintain the legitimacy of the police and, most importantly, to protect the public from predators who have no place in policing.”

To read the full report, Shining a light on betrayal: abuse of position for a sexual purpose, click here.

Despite the action many forces are taking, abuse of position for a sexual purpose can still be difficult to detect. If you believe you are a victim, or you suspect someone you know might be, it is vital that you come forward so that this corruption can be rooted out. You can do this by contacting HMICFRS, or Citizens Advice.

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