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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

Sexual Misconduct 2017-2020

Date of request: March 17, 2021
Reference: Various

Request

I would be grateful if you could please provide:

  • The number of reports of sexual offences, allegedly perpetrated by police officers, community support officers, or staff members employed by your force, received by your force for each calendar year for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020

For each report please

  • A brief description of the alleged wrongdoing i.e. nature of the offence
  • The outcomes of any criminal investigation and misconduct investigation
  • Whether the report was referred to IPOC

 

Response

Please find below the number of alleged sexual offences and alleged misconduct, such as inappropriate sexual behaviour reported as a complaint or referred as a conduct allegation, which hasn’t met the criminal threshold for sexual offences, for the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Please note that all conducts prior to February 2020 required a manual ‘key word search’ in order to identify those that pertain to sexual offences. This is because out of the 10 Standards of Professional Behaviour, there is not one specific standard that only relates to sexual offences. Therefore a key word search for ‘rape’, ‘harass’, ‘assault’ and ‘sex’ was conducted. These have then been manually reviewed the results to remove any that do not pertain to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Any other allegations that do not clearly relate to those three categories have not been included

2017 2018 2019 2020
                                                       Complaints Received
Complaints 3 5 3 4
Allegations 5 5 3 5
                                                     Internal Investigations
Conducts 10 6 8 1
Allegations 15 8 11 3

Please find attached a summary of the complaints and internal investigations which have been listed in the above table.

Please find below a breakdown of the outcomes of the complaints and internal investigations listed in the table in the response to question one.

                                                                  Outcomes
  2017 2018 2019 2020
No Action 10 6 7 6
Proceedings Discontinued 3 0 0 0
Management Action/ Reflective Practice 1 0 3 1
Written/ Final Written Warning 1 0 2 0
Dismissed 2 1 0 1
Would have been dismissed 0 6 2 0
Retired/ Resigned 3 0 0 0

Please find below the number of complaints and internal investigations that were referred to the IOPC for the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

                                                             IOPC Referrals
2017 2018 2019 2020
6 6 6 2

With regards to any ongoing investigations, I am not obliged to provide all the information requested. As such the exemptions applicable to this information is;

  • Section 31(1)(g) – Investigations and proceedings conducted by a public authority, by virtue of subsection 2b

Section 31(1)(g) 2(b) provides an exemption where “the exercise by any public authority of its functions for any of the purposes specified in subsection (2). The purpose of ascertaining whether any person is responsible for any conduct which is improper.”

Section 31 is a prejudice based exemption and as such requires the harm to be articulated and a public interest test to be conducted, which is as follows:

Harm

The constabulary must be able to carry out investigations, in this instance into the officers and staff which serve Avon and Somerset, effectively and without outside influence. Where internal investigations are required, they are integral to the constabulary’s ability to ensure those upholding the law are trustworthy when carry out their operational duties. Disclosure of information relating to an ongoing internal investigation would harm the constabulary’s ability to carry out an investigation thus undermining its capability to ensure this.

Should the constabulary be unable to carry out investigations effectively, the public trust in our investigative methods, the officers that serve the constabulary and the constabulary itself is loss. A loss in the public trust of the constabulary would result in an increase in crime, in turn this would be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public.

Public Interest Test

Considerations favouring disclosure:

The disclosure of details relating to investigations involving Police Officers and Police Staff would provide the public with reassurance that the constabulary take all reports of crimes seriously and that these are managed appropriately, ensuring all relevant enquiries are undertaken. Additionally, disclosure of this information may go some way to demonstrating that the constabulary is efficient and effective in challenging officers when the conduct displayed is improper. In turn ensuring that those serving the constabulary are accountable for their actions.

Investigations are conducted using public funds therefore disclosing information provides transparency of the way public money is used

Considerations favouring non-disclosure:

Internal investigations and investigators need some latitude to undertake private consideration of the issues before them if they are to fully explore all aspects of a case without fear that, at a particular point in the process, half-formed opinions would be reported or otherwise enter the public domain.

Such concerns about the release of this information would hinder the efficient running of an investigation. Investigators may expect their findings to be made public but at a later stage when they represent the fully considered conclusions of the investigation.

We must also consider the fact that some investigations can be aided by either individuals, or organisations, providing information to the investigating authority or person. This information is likely to be volunteered by a “confidential source” on the understanding that their identity would not be released or that they would otherwise be identified.

There is a strong public interest in not discouraging others from cooperating with public authorities and supplying them with the information they need on a voluntary basis.

Balancing test

Any investigations which relate to Police Officers or Police Staff, including the way in which these are conducted, will be of significant public interest. Therefore providing the details would show openness and transparency which are fundamental elements of the Freedom of Information Act. Where victims and witnesses have confidence that enquiries are being appropriately managed they would be more likely to come forward and report incidents. However, significant public funds are required to carry out investigations therefore the Constabulary would not release details that could hinder this process.

After weighing up the competing interests, I have determined that the disclosure of any further information, at this time, would not be in the public interest. I believe the importance of the factors favouring non-disclosure outweigh those considerations favouring disclosure.

Furthermore I am not obliged to provide the information as requested as to provide all the information together as you have asked would identify personal information. The exemption applicable to this is;

  • Section 40(2), third party personal information.

This is an Absolute exemption so therefore there is no requirement to conduct a harm or public interest test.

Any information is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act if it relates to or is supplied by another individual and disclosure of that information would contravene any of the data protection principles set out in Article 5(1) of the GDPR and Section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018;

A Freedom of Information Disclosure is a disclosure to the world. Therefore information that is provided can be viewed by any member of the public. To provide the information together as you have requested may have severe consequences. For example, an individual may be identified by another member of the public. Alternatively an individual could identify themselves, and be aware that their personal data has been used unlawfully.

Should the information be provided in a format in which a living individual could be identified this would constitute personal data. This would then become a breach of rights provided under the Data Protection Act 2018.

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