The ACU said it had received 22 referrals relating to alleged sexual misconduct in the year to 31 March, up from 17 the previous year. And it said it was monitoring 13 serious organised crime groups (SOCGs) amid fears they could be attempting to corrupt serving officers.
In a report for the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), it said: “The abuse of position by police officers or members of police staff in order to conduct predatory sexual behaviour remains a concern within Police Scotland and across the UK.”
The ACU also recorded an increase in allegations relating to officers being involved in the use and supply of illegal drugs (51 cases) and of perverting the course of justice (23 cases).
However, it said the rise was due to the more “pro-active” role being undertaken by the unit, which was formed following the overhaul of the controversial Counter Corruption Unit (CCU) in 2016.
Scottish Greens justice spokesman John Finnie, convener of Holyrood’s justice sub-committee on policing, said he intended to raise the issue of sexual misconduct in the Scottish Parliament next week. He said: “The public deserve the fullest protection from predatory sexual behaviour, whatever its source.
“I’m keen to understand what steps Police Scotland have taken or will take to address such criminal conduct within its midst.”
Last month, a former undercover officer claimed Police Scotland has a corruption problem as a result of being infiltrated by criminal gangs.
Neil Woods, who is part of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (Leap), said corruption had occurred in England and “guaranteed” it would also be happening in Police Scotland.
He said most police officers were incorruptible, but a minority could be influenced.
Mr Woods said the issue was “endemic and cannot be defended against” unless drugs policy was reformed to take the distribution of illicit substances out of the hands of organised crime.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said the allegations of sexual misconduct were a particular worry.
She said: “This is really concerning. The police are in a position of power. If it is the case that officers are engaging in predatory sexual behaviour, then we would expect strong action to be taken.
“There can be real barriers to reporting any form of sexual misconduct such as sexual harassment or sexual assault.
“That’s particularly the case if it’s a police officer and people can really worry about being believed. It’s so important that the police take this seriously and have clear procedures in place.”
Figures from the ACU show the number of allegations of “inappropriate association”, where officers put themselves at risk of disclosing intelligence to criminals, fell from 26 to 22 cases last year.
The unit also warned the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information such as details of search warrants remained a concern.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs, from Police Scotland, said: “The overwhelming majority of our officers and staff consistently conduct themselves in accordance with our high standards.
“Any breaches of trust can have a devastating impact on the public, therefore we do everything we can to ensure that the whole service performs to the level of professional behaviour our communities expect.”
He added: “Our Professional Standards Department assesses potential risks to mitigate effectively against them.”