Their work has resulted in dangerous sexual predators put behind bars like Christopher Spooner.
The 43 year-old, formerly of Pattiswick Square, Basildon, was jailed for eight years last February after being found with more than 14,500 indecent images of children and shared them with people across the world.
In July, 27 year-old Scott Chapman of Hume Close, Tilbury was sentenced to seven years in prison after POLIT officers detected he’d posed as a young girl on social media apps and had a library of 550 incident images.
Dedicated team keeping your family safe
Temporary Detective Inspector Jim Adams leads the team and says the work they do has never been more important:
“More and more of our lives, and that of our children, is spent online – whether that be on a computer, a smart phone or a tablet.
“Sadly, that also means there are more opportunities for sexual predators to exploit.
“But my team of dedicated officers work hard to ensure those people are identified and not able to pose a threat to children.
“It’s not an easy job but it is incredibly important.
“The crime scenes we investigate are the devices we seize and the content found on them.
“It can be distressing for officers to view and categorise images, read the chat logs where children are being groomed, so looking after their welfare is another key priority for me.
“Many children suffer physical and psychological harm from the abuse they’ve suffered, and our intervention is often the first help and support they will have had.
“It’s our job to take away the power from the offender and provide a voice for the victim.”
Worrying increase in younger offenders
T/DI Adams also says they’re seeing a new worrying trend: “A significant trend throughout last year was the increase in the number of young people accessing this sort of material.
"Over the course of the last year we’ve noticed a stark increase in the number of children that were responsible for requesting or accessing this sort of material online.
“This is a really concerning change in the demographic of the offenders that we deal with and we will be working closely with our Youth Offending Teams to understand the causes and tackle the problem.”
‘Children are being persuaded, tricked or threatened into sending images of themselves’
T/DI Adams continued: “We’ve also seen significant increases in self-generated material over the last two years, which seems to coincide with the fact that people have been spending more time communicating online as a result of the pandemic.
“We are now regularly dealing with individuals that have persuaded, tricked or threatened children into sending indecent images of themselves via the internet.
“It’s important that children are alert to the tactics used by these offenders and that parents are able to have open conversations with children about what they do online.
“A useful way to help children to identify the risks is to compare online activities with real world situations.
"For example, what would they do if a stranger approached them in the street and started talking to them or asked them for a photograph?”.
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.