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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Thursday promised to stamp out sexual harassment and bullying after a wave of complaints from female officers added to problems facing the fabled national police force.
"Harassment has no place in the RCMP. We recognize it may be impossible to prevent entirely, but we will implement a zero tolerance approach," the force said in a plan outlining what steps it will take.
Several female Mounties have filed lawsuits in the past year alleging they were harassed at work and some said their complaints had been ignored or covered up.
"The RCMP stands little to gain by denying the obvious - and it will not do so," said the document. "As long as these cases dominate the public discourse they will undermine public confidence in our institution and consume effort. Where wrong has been committed, it will be made right."
The RCMP has suffered a series of high-profile embarrassments in recent years, most noticeably when four officers Tasered and subdued an unarmed Polish immigrant at Vancouver airport in 2007. He died shortly afterward.
The force last year apologized for taking too much time to track down British Columbia serial killer Robert Pickton. An official inquiry cited "systemic bias" by police against his victims, who were female sex trade workers.
The RCMP said it had received 1,091 complaints from 671 different people between February 2005 and November 2012. It said 26 complaints were about sexual harassment, 598 complaints were about humiliating or demeaning comments and bullying while 427 related to abuse of authority
Separately, the agency charged with probing complaints against the police said inconsistent documents and methods of dealing with allegations by service members made it hard to tell how well the Mounties were tackling the problem.
"The simple perception of the existence of systemic poor treatment of employees by colleagues and supervisors, regardless of gender, has a huge impact on both public confidence and the manner in which the police are regarded," said Ian McPhail, who heads a commission investigating complaints against the RCMP.
McPhail recommended the Mounties improve the way they report and track harassment complaints.
"A simple pledge to root out moral turpitude cannot address the many dimensions of this critical issue on its own. ... The most important task is changing the perception of many employees and segments of the public that the organization is complicit in the problem and as a result incapable of adequately addressing it," he said in a statement.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Doina Chiacu