Key Points:

Police have "unreservedly and unequivocally" apologised to the victims of the actions of the "few officers" whose actions were highlighted in Dame Margaret Bazley's report into police conduct.

Dame Margaret's report, released today, slammed "disgraceful conduct" by serving officers, finding 141 incidents in which there was enough evidence for police to be disciplined or face charges.

She said she had reviewed 313 complaints of sexual assault against 222 police officers between 1979 and 2005 and said there were times when police protected their own.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said police were already acting on the findings of the report.

"We have learned from this process. We will own and fix any problems and focus on the future of police and policing in New Zealand," Mr Broad said.

"I acknowledge the hurt and harm that has been done to you, your families and supporters.

"I am truly sorry that these few of our number have caused so much pain and grief that undermined that sense of high expectations New Zealanders rightly have of their police."

Mr Broad said the inquiry had been a necessary external critique and implementation of many of the report's recommendations was already well advanced.

"We'll put our own house in order and we won't mind who looks over our shoulder in the process," he said.

Dame Margaret found police management lacked the policies, procedures and practices to deal effectively with incidents of sexual misconduct by police officers.

Her report recommends introducing a code of conduct for police which would include prohibiting officers from participating in a sexual relationship with someone they are dealing with professionally.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, Police Minister Annette King and Justice Minister Mark Burton said all 60 recommendations from the inquiry would be implemented.

They said action would be taken to implement recommendations including: a code of conduct for police officers, new disciplinary procedures and revamping the Police Complaints Authority.

Exploitation

Dame Margaret said she saw evidence of some "disgraceful" conduct by police officers and associates, involving the exploitation of vulnerable people and there were also incidents of officers attempting to protect alleged perpetrators.

"These incidents, which occurred mainly in the 1980s, include evidence of officers condoning or turning a blind eye to sexual activity of an inappropriate nature; a wall of silence from colleagues protecting those officers complained about; negative, stereotyped view of complainants, and a culture of scepticism in dealing with complaints of sexual assault," she said.

"However, there was no evidence of any concerted attempt across the organisation as a whole to cover up unacceptable behaviour."

Dame Margaret said she was disturbed to learn police do not have any code of conduct or guidelines that provide sworn police officers with clear guidelines on what constitutes appropriate behaviour, particularly sexual behaviour.

"It is very clear to me that in order to maintain public trust and credibility police officers need to adhere to high standards of ethical behaviour, both on and off duty, and police management needs to be vigilant in maintaining a culture that supports these standards.

Sexual behaviour

"This is particularly the case with respect to sexual behaviour, and to any suggestion that an officer is using his or her position of authority to secure sexual favours.

"Some types of sexual behaviour, although they may not constitute sexual assault, are nevertheless inappropriate for police officers."

Dame Margaret said New Zealand was fortunate to have a police force in which misconduct by officers was relatively rare, but the public needed reassuring.

"However, the risk that misconduct, particularly sexual misconduct, poses to public confidence in the police is a significant one. New Zealand police should give high priority to ensuring this risk is minimised, and that when misconduct does occur, it is dealt with professionally, expeditiously and in a manner that gives complainants and the general public no reason for concern.

"In my view police management lacks the policies, procedures and practices necessary for effectively dealing with such misconduct, and for removing the officers concerned."

But Dame Margaret said "at the present time" the public could have confidence in the calibre of police investigations into allegations of sexual assault by officers.

"Although the evidence the commission has seen highlights some failings in the past, the policies and procedures surrounding how such investigations are investigated have improved markedly over the past 25 years.

"Nevertheless, further improvements are needed, in particular to address the proliferation of policies and procedures and also the issues around the effective implementation of the Adult Sexual Assault Investigation Policy."

Mr Broad said the actions of a small number of staff had taken a toll on the whole police organisation.

"The overwhelming majority of officers carry out their public duties to the highest standard -- day in and day out -- in very challenging circumstances," he said.

"We all feel it when we get marked with the brush of errant behaviour."

Disciplinary action

Dame Margaret said of the 313 complaints she reviewed against police, 141 were regarded as containing sufficient evidence on which to lay criminal charges or undertake some disciplinary action.

She said it was important not to draw conclusions from the numbers of complaints involving police officers without recognising that policing by nature could generate large numbers of complaints.

"However, I am concerned both about the number of complaints and the number that were seen to justify some sort of action taken by way of criminal charges or disciplinary action.

"Although not all of those allegations were proven, I am concerned about the effect they would have had on the organisation."

Included in her 60 recommendations was a call for the current police disciplinary system to be replaced by a modern approach to managing misconduct and poor performance, applying standard employment law and best practice human resource management practices.

Police needed to establish a national early warning system that highlighted officers who may be at risk of inappropriate behaviour, she said.

Police Minister Annette King said in a statement all recommendations directly affecting police would be implemented.

These included a code of conduct for sworn staff and new police regulations revoking the disciplinary tribunal system.

Ms King said there could be no tolerance of the examples identified by Dame Margaret of "disgraceful conduct by police officers and associates over the period from 1979, involving the exploitation of vulnerable people".

But, with Helen Clark, Ms King said the police had improved their standards and practices over the last 25 years in dealing with complaints about sexual offences and complaints against police officers.

There would be a continuing drive to increase the number of women in the force, but New Zealanders could trust the service given by the police.

"It is easy to underestimate the impact the past three years have had on police morale. The behaviour of a few officers has cast doubt on the integrity of the cast majority of staff. Dame Margaret has condemned the actions of the few, but the vast majority of the police can hold their heads high after the report," Ms King said.

- NZPA