Police ‘Sex Pests’ – No, they are predators and offenders
I forgot to pick up a copy of The Times on Saturday. I had seen that it was running a front page article on the number of Police Officer ‘Sex Pests’ still serving. I have now managed to see part of the article that mentions under a FOI request there had been 150 cases dealt with (not sure over what time span). I have seen the response of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) via Twitter @PoliceChiefs. Sadly, once again it just pushes out the same old line; “We will not tolerate corrupt officers or staff and it is vital that we respond swiftly and robustly to incidences of sexual misconduct.” This time it is the voice of Chief Constable Martin Jelley, NPCC Lead on Professional Standards and Ethics. I am sure that like most other chief officers his intentions are good, he firmly believes what he says and would remove officers where he could. I wholeheartedly agree with his comments, but the reality is very different.
What I would like to know is, exactly what are the NPCC and other bodies going to do about it when the 150 is just the tip of the iceberg. In a recent case in Lancashire, a police officer had been found to behaving inappropriately for 10yrs. Not too long ago another retired officer working at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) admitted harassing a student. In the press he was referred to as a ‘Sex Pest’. It transpired that he had been doing this during his service, but it was swept under the carpet by senior officers. This left the victim(s) completely unsupported. In North Yorkshire an officer has just been found guilty of an inappropriate comment to a female colleague and is pending a decision as to his future. In the Metropolitan Police Service, another officer has also recently been sacked following a conviction for rape. A retired senior officer from North Wales has just been convicted in court of historic sexual abuse. A retired PC from West Midlands Police has also been convicted of child rape and sexual abuse. The list goes on and on. These are cases that have come in to the public domain through the courts and a more open and transparent discipline process.
Let’s get one thing straight before I continue, these officers are not ‘Sex Pests’. They are sexual predators and offenders, some of whom are protected by a ‘closed ranks’ attitude. Despite the best efforts of many senior officers, these police officers continue to prey on colleagues, other people they work with from partnership agencies and vulnerable members of the public. In most of these cases, we are not talking about a bygone era in policing. It is happening today and every day in the canteens, police vehicles, locker rooms and offices of police stations across the country. There are police officers serving today who are afraid to speak out, either to tell someone of the harassment and abuse, or even to stand up for those being harassed. It is much easier to hope that the victim simply packs up and leaves (Withdrawal in Responses to Dominance). Some officers and police staff are almost oblivious to it, as it happens all the time. Sadly, others just accept it is part of serving in a male dominated environment, the put up and shut up approach. Younger female officers are even advised by longer serving officers not to ‘rock the boat’. How can the police service be open to all when it is closed to so many? Dr Louise Westmarland (2001). Gender and policing: sex, power and police culture examines the way police attitudes and beliefs combine to perpetuate a working culture which is dependent upon traditional conceptions of ‘male’ and ‘female’. Dr Westmarland has been asked to advise forces following high profile incidents of sexist behaviour from within.
I was recently at a police & partners training session, where one of the topics was around sex offences. When I raised the point that I had been told that ‘Locker Room’ talk a la Trump style still went on in police vans, where women on a night out were commented on by officers in highly sexualised and inappropriate ways, there was little to show that the officer doing the presentation was genuinely concerned. I pointed out that it was reported to me that officers made comment that some women get drunk, end up having sex, regretting it later and ‘cry rape’. The presenter, an experienced detective asked me to bring them the evidence and they would do something about it. What the service has got to stop doing is treating these reports as matters that require evidence beyond reasonable doubt before it flags up a real concern. My comment and those of others within the ranks should alert the service to what could be serious misconduct and make every effort to support people who voice their concerns. I would suggest that most people do not report sexual harassment and assault in the workplace for the fun of it. Officers are more likely to become a social pariah. How are victims of harassment, stalking and sexual assault going to feel if think that those who are there to protect and support them are unlikely to believe their complaint. I have known a number of police officers and staff, as well as heard information from others to suggest that sexual harassment and sexist comments are part of day-to-day policing. Officers getting cornered and asked for a kiss and cuddle, sexually touched, being sent sexual texts, a member of a partner agency working with the police being sexualised harassed by a police officer despite making it clear that they were not at all interested. All the officers involved in these cases were married male officers with children. They all had a good deal of service. Some of these incidents were not reported, others were, but there was not enough ‘evidence’ to say the incident happened. Strangely, I don’t expect that these officers to sexual assault and harass women in front of colleagues or members of the public. I also know that the officers who were the victims left their respective forces, having been totally let down by Professional Standards, HR, the Federation and some colleagues who were unwilling or afraid to support their complaints.
The Code of Ethics is a cornerstone of police training. Officers are told that it is everyone’s responsibility to challenge poor conduct and behaviour. There are confidential hotlines to Professional Standards and Whistleblowing policies in place. In some cases they do not work, as the culture of the service is still one of sexism. I appreciate the hard work of police officers and police staff. In no way am I suggesting that the organisation is completely sexist, but I would suggest it has a culture of protecting experienced officers over those who are new to the service. How does the police service propose to properly reflect the best in society if it continues to protect the worst. Former Chief Constable Sue Sim has started to lift the lid on such behaviour, but it has been since she retired. She has been a rather isolated voice.
With the drive towards professionalising the police service through the Police Now project, fast track entry to Inspector, direct entry to Superintendent and the introduction of the Police Educational Qualifications Framework (PEQF), how many more potentially good police officers is the service going to lose before it really sorts out this cultural issue within its ranks?