OFFICERS and staff working at Essex Police have been investigated for sexually exploiting victims of crime 51 times since 2010, according to a new report.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) revealed the figure in its annual review of the force, saying more must be done to tackle the issue.

The force was rated good overall in the twin leadership and legitimacy inspections, but the report also said there is still more work to do to prevent the “abuse of authority for sexual gain”.

Report author Zoe Billingham said: “It is evident that the force treats the abuse of authority for sexual gain as serious corruption.

“The force’s Operation Pershore, which has been run since 2013, is specifically aimed at dealing with abuse of authority for the purposes of sexual gain.”

She added: “The force has more to do, however, to proactively seek intelligence on potential corruption from a variety of external sources such as women’s refuges, sex worker support groups, websites, gyms and local partners.

“It has completed limited work to encourage potential victims to report suspicious behaviour.

“Once such behaviour is identified, however, the force moves swiftly to safeguard victims and investigate the matter.”

The report praised the force for actively publicising the arrest, dismissal and conviction of former Chief Insp Ben Hodder, 34, from Thurrock, who admitted making indecent images of children last year.

He was given a six-month jail term, suspended for two years, told to pay a £1,200 fine and sign on the sex offenders’ register for seven years.

She said: “The force published the full details on the force website and on Twitter and ensured that the local media was able to quickly and accurately report the facts.”

The report examined police legitimacy- meaning how well the force exercises its powers.

Essex Police was praised for the way it engages with the public and its general treatment of victims.

However, inspectors were concerned at top brass’s ability to deal with corruption.

It said: “The force has a corruption control strategy; however it is of limited value and requires further development to be comprehensive and effective.

“The current document amounts to a one-page summary of the three most vulnerable areas, we found that the strategy currently lacks reference to prevention, intelligence-gathering or enforcement. It is therefore incomplete.

“A further area of concern is the force’s lack of capability and capacity to carry out effective monitoring of the use of every computer system.”

In October, Det Con Darren Paterson, who worked at Essex Police’s College, was dismissed for using computer systems to view, or attempt to view, confidential information.

He had also failed to disclose true and complete details on vetting forms.

The force was praised for its attitudes about diversity and the way it develops its workforce.

The report said: “Essex Police is open to new ideas, and staff at all levels are encouraged to put forward suggestions for innovation and improvement.

“The force has a relatively informal suggestion scheme that involves officers and staff emailing the leadership team. This scheme is working well. However, the force is in the process of buying software that will provide an enhanced, more formal scheme.”

Victims are less satisfied with their treatment

OVERALL victim satisfaction with Essex Police is falling.

The report also found that while 88.5 per cent of all victims of crime (excluding hate crime) were satisfied with the overall treatment provided by the force, this was lower than the England and Wales average of 93.4 percent.

It was also lower than the 92.2 percent who were satisfied with the overall treatment that the force provided in the 12 months to 31 March 2015.

The authors called this a “statistically significant difference”.

Leaders welcome mainly positive report and promise more improvements

SENIOR leaders at Essex Police broadly welcomed the reports, which are equivalent to a good Ofsted report for a school.

Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh said: “Being a police officer is a privilege and it’s crucial that we use and are seen to use our policing powers fairly and with respect.

“Modern policing also needs strong leadership throughout the ranks to embed the values we need the public to experience when they encounter us.

“This important reports demonstrate that, in challenging times for policing, Essex Police operates with a strong ethical culture that treats people fairly, puts victims first and equips officers to lead teams working every day to prevent harm and solve crime.

“The reports highlight that we are working hard to improve the public’s confidence in us and to ensure victims of crime are satisfied with the help we provide. We also attach great importance within the force to embed the fairness and ethical conduct that I know the public expect of us.

“I am pleased the reports have set out the good work we’ve been doing, but I will never be complacent about policing and safety in Essex.”

Roger Hirst, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Essex, said the force will continue to make improvements.

He said: “This demonstrates that under the leadership of chief constable Stephen Kavanagh, Essex Police is taking real strides forward in becoming a police force that listens to the public and puts victims first.

“I recognise nevertheless that more needs to be done to give the public greater confidence , particularly in relation to local policing and in ensuring that the diversity of the workforce of Essex Police better reflects the communities that it serves.

“These are important issues that the chief constable and I take very seriously.”