Forces are not doing enough to prevent officers abusing their position for a sexual purpose, finds 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 today.

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Shining a light on betrayal: Abuse of position for a sexual purpose

HMICFRS inspected how forces are tackling this crime in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Over this period, inspectors found that most forces have been slow to take the steps necessary to root out this type of corruption. As part of its ongoing annual assessments of police forces in England and Wales, HMICFRS committed to following up how forces had progressed since 2017.

HMICFRS has 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. 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 percent 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 don’t yet have full ICT monitoring on their systems.

These forces haven’t invested the necessary resources and they aren’t proactive enough in looking for corruption. The report published today makes a number of recommendations for forces to help them improve tackling this form of corruption and abuse.

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.”

The report, Shining a light on betrayal: abuse of position for a sexual purpose, is published as part of HMICFRS’s ongoing annual assessment of police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy (PEEL).

Also published today is the PEEL spotlight report: Emerging themes from the second group of 2018/19 PEEL inspectionssecond group of Integrated PEEL Assessments (IPA). The first group of IPA reports published in May 2019 showed a system under pressure. In this second group of inspections, it increasingly shows how this pressure is affecting the dedicated people who work to keep the public safe. A workforce under pressure cannot give the public the best level of service.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said:

“Overall, most forces are performing well. They are keeping people safe and reducing crime, using their resources efficiently, and treating their workforces and the communities they serve fairly and with respect. But following this second group of inspections we found that there are more forces requiring improvement in more areas. And we have issued our first inadequate grades in our 2018/19 PEEL inspections. We do not want to see the police service, which is currently meeting the needs of most people in England and Wales, find itself unable to cope with demand.

“Our inspections took place before recent announcements of the recruitment of additional officers, but this makes our findings more relevant. It is welcome news that the Government plans to increase the number of police officers. But that will not, on its own, solve the pressures facing policing. Our report shows areas that need addressing to make sure that the public feels the benefits, as well as ensuring police officers and staff are supported and protected when performing their duties.”

Get the reports

Shining a light on betrayal: Abuse of position for a sexual purpose

PEEL spotlight report: Emerging themes from the second group of 2018/19 PEEL inspections


  1. 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’

  2. PEEL is an annual assessment of police forces in England and Wales. Forces are assessed on their effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. They are judged as outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate on these categories (or pillars) based on inspection findings, analysis and Her Majesty’s Inspectors’ (HMIs) professional judgment across the year.