How Police Guidance Fails Sexual Abuse Victims

A West Midlands Police Officer has recently been in the news having been disciplined for having had an “inappropriate relationship” with a “vulnerable” woman while on duty. (West Midlands Police Officer warned over improper relationship)

According to news reports, the Police watchdog, the IOPC established that PC Crowe came into contact with the woman in the course of his professional duties and gave her his personal mobile number.  A sexual relationship commenced soon after between April to October 2017.

The relationship only ended after PC Crowe disclosed the matter to a supervisor following a presentation on maintaining professional boundaries in October 2017.

The fact that PC Crowe only thought to disclose the relationship after the presentation suggests a lack of awareness on his part in the extent of his responsibilities under the Standards of Professional Behaviour and therefore failings by his supervisors to ensure he was fully aware.  That could perhaps explain why ultimately (and remarkably in my opinion) he was only given a written warning for his “gross misconduct”.

Given my experience as a specialist in this field however, I’m afraid that I just don’t buy PC Crowe’s protestations of ignorance and I thought I would share some details from a case I’m working on at this time to explain why.

My client was in an abusive marriage.  In July 2013, the Police were called and ultimately arrested my client’s husband for domestic violence.  One of the officers who attended was a “PC A” who my client recalls being very complimentary about her appearance.

The next day, PC A called my client’s mobile phone number and asked if he could attend her home to carry out a “welfare check”.  My client agreed.  On attendance, PC A again complimented her on her appearance.  Subsequently, PC A began to text and call my client on a regular basis and within a few weeks, a sexual relationship commenced.

PC A would send a text message to my client saying that he was going to call round for “a cup of tea” which became code for sexual intercourse.  The timing of this would always be controlled by PC A.

At some point in 2014, PC A informed my client that another officer at his station had been identified as having entered into a relationship with a vulnerable woman he had met on duty and that the officer was liable for dismissal.  PC A was worried that similar action could be taken against him and encouraged my client to send him a text message inviting him to a fictional housewarming party.  My client did as requested and sent PC A the text and he replied, advising that he could not attend as it would be inappropriate to do so.

The relationship continued but on PC A’s terms.  Although my client tried to progress the relationship beyond a merely sexual one, PC A rebuffed her.  Ultimately, my client began to realise that PC A was manipulating her for his own gratification and in 2015, my client resolved to and did end the relationship.

In 2017, the Anti Corruption Unit of the Police Force contacted my client and explained that a complaint had been made against PC A, specifically that a vulnerable member of the public had disclosed  that PC A had attended upon her as a domestic violence victim, had subsequently contacted her on a social basis and was trying to form a relationship.  In the circumstances, PC A was being investigated for misconduct and his phone was seized.  Upon review, it was established that PC A and my client had been in a relationship.  My client gave a full statement and misconduct proceedings were subsequently brought against PC A who was ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct.

PC A’s misconduct as regards my client began in July 2013 and continued until 2015. What information had been given to him as regards the propriety of his forming a relationship with a vulnerable victim of crime?

The start point was the Standards of Professional Behaviour expected by all officers;

  • Honesty and Integrity.
  • Authority, Respect and Courtesy.
  • Discreditable Conduct

In October 2011, PC A and other officers in his force were reminded “to maintain a professional boundary” when dealing with vulnerable victims (for example, victims of domestic abuse) and the dismissal of an officer in the force who had formed an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable victim he had met on duty was highlighted.

In November 2012, the Police (Conduct) Regulations came into force.  Within the Regulations, a small amendment was made to the ‘Standards of Professional Behaviour’, specifically to ‘Authority, Respect and Courtesy’;  “Police Officers do not use their professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a person they come into contact in the course of their duties and who is vulnerable to an abuse or trust of power”.

In January 2013, another warning was issued following yet another dismissal of a serving officer for abuse of position for sexual gain; “All officers ….. are reminded that when dealing with any vulnerable person, including victims of domestic violence, they should behave in a manner which does not discredit the Police Service or undermine public confidence”

In September 2013, further guidance was given;

“Trust is a critical component of the relationship between ………….  Police and the communities of……………. To ensure that this trust is maintained and communities protected, a professional boundary should exist between the relationships of members  of ………….. Police and victims, offenders and/or witnesses.  If this boundary is breached, it will undermine the trust of the communities of …….  in its officers and staff or, more widely, the police service.  In some circumstances the breach may even constitute a criminal offence of ‘Misconduct in Public Office”.

The Standards of Professional Behaviour for both police officers and police staff clearly identify that they should not abuse their powers, or authority, and respect the rights of individuals.  Officers and staff should be aware that in their dealings with victims, witnesses and offenders there is likely to be an imbalance of power (for example due to ongoing or situational vulnerability or though powers of office) and that an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the purely professional may constitute an abuse of that power.

To ensure that there can be no misunderstanding as to the professional standards  expected from all members of …………. Police in relation to maintaining boundaries, the following additional guidance must be adhered to.

You must not use your professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any current or former victim, offender or witness, or use your contact with them to pursue a relationship with someone close to them.

In July 2014, further guidance was given highlighting the issues concerning inappropriate relationships commenced by an officer arising from his role as an officer.

In 2014, PC A was in a group of officers subject to random drug testing procedure.  Officers from the Anti Corruption Unit took the opportunity to then conduct discussions on topical issues including maintaining professional boundaries.

Also in 2014, an officer in the force was suspended from duty (and ultimately dismissed in December 2015) for entering into a relationship with a vulnerable woman.  A colleague sought to then give false evidence to defend the inappropriate relationship.  It was this investigation that prompted PC A to encourage my client to invite him to the fictional housewarming party in an attempt to cover up his wrongdoing.

In light of the wealth of information (and PC A’s own actions), it is crystal clear that PC A was aware of his responsibilities and yet chose to ignore the standards of Professional Behaviour and numerous warnings and guidance given.

PC A’s response to the issue when questioned is instructive; “It’s guidance and you can assess it.  It is made with the best intentions and you take the guidance from that.  Where you think it is appropriate you would follow it.  You can go left and right of guidance.  And again I make a judgment call on that and that would have been my choice.”

The issue of officers abusing their professional powers for sexual gain has attracted a significant amount of media attention of late.  My client’s case highlights that.  With the amount of instruction and guidance given to your average rank and file officer, it is inescapable that for an officer to have decided to enter into a relationship with a vulnerable victim of crime over the past 5 or 6 years is with full knowledge that it is wrong and if found out, likely to lead to disciplinary proceedings.

The fact that many officers continue regardless reveals that they have little regard if caught and/or for any likely punishment (either in the criminal courts for Misconduct in Public Office or via Misconduct Proceedings).

Police Forces across the Country must continue to close the net on rogue officers such as this by not only training and guidance but also more stringent methods of identifying and stopping such perpetrators.  It is quite clear, for example, that in PC A’s case he had ample guidance to warn him that what he was doing was an abuse of the special rule entrusted to him, but chose to see that guidance as ‘optional’.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.