Two hundred and ten children have been safeguarded by the Essex Police Online Investigation Team (POLIT) over a 12-month period.
The team works to protect children from the threat of online offending and targets offenders suspected of making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
“Accessing and searching for indecent images breeds an illegal market which results in more and more children being victimised and re-victimised,” said DI Jo Collins from POLIT.
“Our ultimate aim is to identify and locate child victims, make their suffering stop and bring the offender to justice.”
Sadly the online threat against children is a growing one and in November 2018 POLIT expanded to target more suspected offenders.
DI Collins leads a number of detectives and support officers who use advances in technology to actively seek out offenders accessing indecent images.
Between June 2018 and the end of May this year, they acted on intelligence to:
Execute 204 search warrants and make 84 arrests, seize more than 1,400 computers, mobile phones and storage devices.
Working with social care and Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs), POLIT also took action to safeguard 210 children and protect them from potential harm.
“Most people join the police to protect the vulnerable and it’s no different for my team,” said DI Collins.
“Many children suffer physical and psychological harm from the abuse they have suffered and our intervention is often the first help and support they will have had.
“We make that difference by identifying the offender, taking them away from being able to continue the abuse and subjecting them to orders and monitoring to try and prevent them offending again.
“It’s our job to take away the power from the offender and provide a voice for the victim. “
In May, a 38-year-old man from Basildon was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment following the discovery of more than 25,000 indecent images on electronic devices seized from his home address.
The offender pleaded guilty to seven charges relating to making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children. He will remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register for the rest of his life and be subject to close monitoring when he is released from prison.
Using advances in technology, the team were able to uncover the true scale of his offending across online messenger and chat applications.
Investigations revealed more than 10,000 of the most serious A category indecent images and videos stored on seven electronic devices, some of which had been shared on online messenger and chat applications.
“A traditional crime scene will have DNA and fingerprint evidence,” said DI Collins.
“The scene my team investigates is the content of the devices that we seize – these require as much scrutiny as a traditional crime scene.
Viewing and categorising images is the most distressing part of our work but it is also the most vital.”
“One of my sergeants has been in policing for 19 years. Many of those years have been spent investigating some of the most distressing crimes against children.
“He is often asked what keeps him going. His response is that he and his colleagues have absolute faith that they are making a big difference to the safety of children across Essex and beyond. That knowledge doesn’t just keep them going but gives them the drive to catch as many offenders as possible.”
Maria Barnett, Essex County Council Service Manager Lead for Safeguarding, said: “One of Essex County Council’s strategic priorities is to help keep vulnerable children safe and enable them to fulfil their potential.
“The safeguarding work of our Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs), in partnership with Essex Police Online Investigation Team (POLIT), is at the very forefront of us achieving that aim.”
Taking, viewing and/or distributing indecent images of anyone under the age of 18 is a crime.
Offenders risk a criminal conviction, prison sentence and being put on the Sex Offenders’ Register as well as losing their family, friends, job and reputation.
If you are aware that you have inappropriate thoughts and feelings or know someone who does, there is help available.
Anyone concerned about their online activity or that of a friend or relative can seek help from The Lucy Faithfull Foundation at www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk or StopSo at www.stopso.org.uk Both are charities that work with people at risk of committing harmful sexual behaviour.