Two Los Angeles police officers have been charged with repeatedly raping four women while on duty.

James Nichols, 44, and Luis Valenzuela, 43, are accused of carrying out the attacks over a three-year period, beginning in 2008.

The two officers, who have been on unpaid leave since 2013, were arrested and formally charged on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the victims had been arrested by the officers at various times on drug-related charges.

A criminal complaint alleged the officers threatened the women with arrest if they did not comply with their demands.

At least some of the alleged sexual assaults took place in the back of the officers’ police cruiser, the complaint said.

Both face multiple counts of sexual assault, including forcible rape and rape under colour of authority.

The charges carry potential life sentences.

Nichols and Valenzuela are being held on $3.5m (£2.45m) bail and are scheduled to appear in court later on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said: “These two officers have disgraced themselves, they’ve disgraced this badge, they’ve disgraced their oath of office.

“I am extremely troubled by what they’ve done.”

The officers became partners in 2008 when they joined the department’s Hollywood Division.