Too many police officers and staff have taken sexual advantage of people they were supposed to be helping, a watchdog has said.
More than 50 cases over the last two years showed sexual exploitation or assault committed by officers, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said. The watchdog said the real number may be much higher.
It revealed a number of case studies including one where a suicidal woman complained she had been raped by one of the officers who came to see her.
An investigation showed that the woman’s allegation against the officer had been repeatedly ignored and despite the perpetrator telling colleagues he had slept with the woman, none of these officers forward. The perpetrator resigned from the police force over the allegations.
The report urges senior leaders within the police service to determinedly root out this kind of abuse of power, which targets people who are already vulnerable.
Another abuse of power took place after an officer used his position to take indecent images of children, after making contact with a vulnerable teenager. He was later sentenced to three months imprisonment.
The report called for more vetting of officers in specific situations, such as those dealing with vulnerable people, and for a code of conduct to set out the behaviour expected of officers.
Concerns were also raised about the abuse of police computer systems, after a number of officers used the network to search for vulnerable sexual targets.
In one: "The investigation found that the officer had improperly accessed police computer systems on hundreds of occasions over a significant period to check information about a number of individuals."
The report, Abuse of Police Powers to Perpetrate Sexual Violence, found 54 cases of officers or staff trying to form sexual relationships with people they ought to have been helping between April 2009 and March last year in England and Wales.
It went on: "There is no evidence to suggest it is commonplace, but nor can we be confident that all such cases are reported.
"There are considerable inconsistencies in the referral of corruption cases in general to the IPCC by different police forces. It is therefore possible that the true figure is higher."
Allegations about colleagues were excluded from the figure, as were complaints after a police search in custody.
"Nevertheless it is highly likely that there are connections and overlap between these kinds of abuse and further work will be required to explore this," the IPCC added.