FOI data analysis demonstrates wide variation in police force response to police officers and staff accused of violence against women and girls
By Amy Bowdrey, Policy and Public Affairs Officer
Police forces are failing women and girls over the handling of police misconduct cases, including cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment perpetrated by police officers. The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Officer and the crimes by serial rapist police officer, David Carrick, alongside mounting cases of police-perpetrated violence against women and girls across police forces in England and Wales, have highlighted the deep-rooted issue of institutional sexism and misogyny in the police.
Refuge supports survivors of police-perpetrated domestic abuse. We know they often experience additional barriers to accessing help and understandably lack confidence in the criminal justice system. Police perpetrators of domestic abuse have the power and influence to threaten, coerce and control women and girls using their position, the system and specialist equipment and resources. Survivors working within the police force also face victimisation, bullying and isolation in the workplace when reporting their perpetrator. We need root and branch reform – take action.
National Police Chief's Council published data that found that between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022, there were 1,177 recorded cases of police perpetrated VAWG¹.
The complaint and misconduct cases were categorised against a range of definitions from the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), which includes sexual harassment (defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, including sexual comments, propositions, leering and sexual posts on social media), discreditable conduct (defined as behaviours that occur while not in the execution of their duty) and sexual assault².
Refuge placed 1,071 rotten apples outside New Scotland Yard.
The apples reflected the number of MPS officers and staff who have been or are currently, under investigation for allegations of domestic abuse or VAWG. This was in response to the suggestion from the former Met Commissioner Cressida Dick that there were just a few ‘bad apples’ in the force perpetrating violent crimes against women, despite data showing thousands of police officers across the country were accused of such crimes³.
Refuge asked ‘How many more bad apples?’ and called for immediate reform of the police and the way they deal with violence against women and girls and domestic abuse, including the immediate suspension of all police officers and staff accused of these crimes. We are still hearing of cases of police-perpetrated abuse. The government and policing leads should and must do more to prevent this. Refuge is particularly concerned that accused perpetrators of VAWG continue to work in roles that involve women and girls, including domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors, while awaiting the outcome of misconduct investigations.
What we did
To better understand how consistently police officers and staff were suspended we, in collaboration with the Independent, sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 43 police forces in England and Wales, and received responses from 36. 26 of these responses were complete data sets. Refuge asked for information from each force on:
- The numbers of violence against women and girls-related misconduct or gross misconduct cases⁴ ⁵ against police officers and police staff from 1 May 2022 – 1 May 2023 and:
- The number of officers and staff that were suspended pending the outcome of VAWG -related misconduct or gross misconduct investigations between 1 May 2022 – 1 May 2023.
What we found
Over 1,000 cases of VAWG related misconduct recorded by police forces that returned data.
From 1 May 2022 to 1 May 2023, there were 1,124 cases of VAWG-related misconduct or gross misconduct across the 26 police forces in England and Wales which provided data in response to Refuge’s FOI request.
Only 24% of police officers and staff accused of violence against women and girls-related misconduct were suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
Across the 26 police forces that returned data, only 269 (24%) of police officers/staff accused of VAWG were suspended from duty. If the MPS is excluded from the analysis, where only 12% of officers and staff were suspended, this rises to 185 (42%) of police staff being suspended (total 437 staff accused across the remaining 25 forces that provided data).
Out of the 26 forces, about half (12) suspended more than 50% of staff accused of VAWG related misconduct or gross misconduct. Four forces suspended more than 75% of accused police staff, namely Dyfed-Powys, Wiltshire, North Wales and West Mercia. Suspension rates ranged from 100% of accused cases suspended (Dyfed-Powys – 4 accused, 4 suspended) to 10% (Derbyshire, 10 accused, 1 suspended and Surrey, 20 accused, 2 suspended)⁶. The second lowest suspension rate was for the MPS, at 12% (84) of the 687 accused cases suspended.
Under current guidance, officers will not be suspended unless suspension from duty is essential in the interests of effective investigation or the public interest⁷ ⁸. Officers can also be moved to different roles, instead of being suspended. We argue that VAWG, in all cases, is detrimental to the public interest. VAWG is about misogyny, control, coercion and power, we have seen in the cases of Wayne Couzens and David Carrick, how easy it is for police officers to use their position to intimidate and silence survivors. All officers accused of VAWG should not be considered for alternative duty but should be automatically suspended. While it is currently up to the individual force’s discretion to develop and deliver a suspension policy, our analysis shows this is leading to unacceptable inconsistencies.
These findings reinforces the importance of Refuge’s call for the immediate suspension of all police officers and staff accused of VAWG to protect women and girls from further harm by potential abusers. This is just the beginning of the ‘root and branch’ reform of policing needed to improve the safety of women and girls across England and Wales. Immediate and radical changes are also needed to vetting and misconduct policies and processes.
Police forces are currently not required to implement a consistent suspension policy, including what requirements are placed on suspended police officers and staff. With no national policy on suspensions there is a lack of consistency on what requirements are paced. This results in a patchwork of requirements for suspended police officers and staff in different forces and varying levels of restrictions across the country.
Refuge calls on the Home Secretary to ensure a consistent suspension policy, where all police officers and staff accused of VAWG misconduct are suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
Refuge demands that to make sure police officers and staff accused of VAWG cannot use their position within the police to potentially continue to perpetrate violence and abuse, at the very least, suspended officers should be required to:
- Surrender warrant cards and pocket notebooks
- Surrender ‘use of force’ equipment
- Surrender other police-issued equipment, including mobile phones and laptops
- Surrender uniform
- Have no access to police computer systems
- Have no access to operational policing premises, including the surrender of access cards/keys
- This should be paired with a mandatory risk assessment with the option of involving of the survivor and a specialist VAWG support service. Any risk assessment could lead to the imposition of more restrictions on an officer/staff member if needed.
Table 1: Police forces’ responses to FOI request:
|Police Force||Data Provided|
|Avon and Somerset Constabulary||No|
|City of London Police||No|
|Devon and Cornwall Constabulary||Yes|
|Greater Manchester Police||No|
|Metropolitan Police Service||Yes|
|North Wales Police||Yes|
|North Yorkshire Police||No|
|South Wales Police||No|
|South Yorkshire Police||No|
|Thames Valley Police||Yes|
|West Mercia Police||Yes|
|West Midlands Police||Yes|
|West Yorkshire Police||Yes|
Police forces that provided reasons for not providing data:
- Avon and Somerset: Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 -Information intended for future publication.
- Durham: Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 where complying with the request would prejudice or would be likely to prejudice various law enforcement purposes
- Northumbria: Section 40 (2) Personal Information and Section 30(1)(a) Investigations and proceedings conducted by a public authority of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
- Nottinghamshire: Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 -Information intended for future publication.
- Cleveland: Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 -Information intended for future publication.
Table Two: Number of accused officers/staff and suspension rates for the police forces who returned data:
|Police Force||Number of police officers and staff accused of VAWG related misconduct or gross misconduct cases (May 2022-May 2023)||Number of police officers and staff accused of VAWG related misconduct or gross misconduct cases that were suspended during investigation (May 2022-May 2023)||Percentage of police officers and staff that were suspended when accused of VAWG related misconduct or gross misconduct (May 2022-May 2023)|
|Devon and Cornwall Constabulary||37||18||49%|
|Metropolitan Police Service||687||84||12%|
|North Wales Police||6||5||83%|
|Thames Valley Police||61||15||25%|
|West Mercia Police||21||16||76%|
|West Midlands Police||45||16||36%|
|West Yorkshire Police||8||4||50%|
⁶ This excludes Cheshire who suspended 0% of officers and staff accused of VAWG, however only had 1 recorded case.