Three senior officers face misconduct proceedings over errors made in the Metropolitan Police investigation into a sex attacker in south-west London.
There was a "sustained failure" in the inquiry which eventually led to Kirk Reid being jailed for life for 28 sexual assaults, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.
It was a "shameful chapter" in the force's history, the watchdog added.
The force was "deeply sorry", Scotland Yard Commander Maxine de Brunner said.
She apologised "for the harm suffered by all of his victims and for failing to bring Reid to justice earlier" and insisted the Metropolitan Police was "not complacent".
A police superintendent and two inspectors will appear at a disciplinary tribunal, which will establish if they breached police codes of conduct, and could be sacked.
Two other officers - a superintendent and a detective sergeant - have received "words of advice" about their conduct.
The IPCC began an investigation after police errors were revealed during Reid's trial last year.
Reid was identified as a potential suspect in 2004 but his DNA was not taken and he was not charged.
The serial stalker was arrested four years later after again being considered a suspect and voluntarily providing a DNA sample.
Police have linked him to a further 80 to 100 sexual assaults.
The watchdog said too few resources were allocated to the inquiry and that officers prioritised other crimes, including robberies, muggings and burglaries for which targets for success had been set.
Deborah Glass, of the IPCC, said managers were responsible for a "sustained failure" to tackle a long-standing pattern of offences in the borough of Wandsworth, south London.
"The failure to take a serial sex offender off the streets of London years earlier is a shameful chapter in the history of the Metropolitan Police."
After Reid's conviction in June 2009, Commander Mark Simmons, who was responsible for sex attack investigations at Scotland Yard, said there was "no explanation" as to why Reid was not picked up sooner and vowed to learn lessons from the case.
Earlier this year the watchdog criticised the force because it had not taken seriously enough the investigation into cab-driving rapist John Worboys.
It said officers should have worked harder to link his distinctive crimes.
"When considered alongside the failings in the case of John Worboys, their overall effect on the confidence of the victims of sexual offences in the police response cannot be overstated," said Ms Glass.
"That is damaging not only for victims, but for the many dedicated officers who have worked hard to make a difference."
Commander de Brunner responded by saying: "We understand and seek to ensure that victims of rape are treated properly and sensitively.
"They must feel reassured that every possible line of inquiry has been exhausted in an attempt to bring any offender to justice."