HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICFRS) found a backlog of almost 100 overdue visits to registered sex offenders and said neighbourhood officers do not even know where they live in some cases because of poor communication.
Inspectors said the ratio of sex offenders to their managers was around 10 to one, meaning police officers and staff were struggling to monitor them properly.
HMICFRS found 98 visits were overdue but other data suggested the real number was far higher, and would increase further amid a rise in the number of convictions for sex offences.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “At the time of our inspection, Merseyside Police’s sex offender unit was seriously overstretched. Offender managers were individually responsible for up to 100 registered sex offenders – double what we would like to see.
“This had a serious impact on the force’s ability to manage sex offenders. Too often, offender managers were playing catchup and couldn’t prioritise preventative work. Neighbourhood policing teams were often unaware of sex offenders living in their communities. And it was particularly concerning to see that the force’s records show a backlog of 98 overdue visits to registered sex offenders.
“This is an area that requires real improvement before I can be confident that Merseyside Police is meeting its duty to keep children safe.”
There are around 2,250 registered sex offenders in Merseyside, including almost 1,800 living in the community – of whom 277 were graded as high risk and six as very high risk.
In one case, police dismissed an anonymous call reporting concerns for the safety of three children as “malicious” despite finding a registered female sex offender staying regularly at their family home.
An officer recommended no further action in the case, but a subsequent review found the woman may have been supplying drugs to children, encouraging them into a “den” in a park and exploiting them.
While Merseyside Police assessed many of its reviewed cases as “good” and none as inadequate, HMICFRS found dozens of cases that required improvement or fell short of standards completely.
The findings were part of a wider child protection investigation, which each police force in England and Wales undergoes on a rolling basis.
Inspectors raised concerns about some investigations into missing children and potential grooming, including a 14-year-old girl who was at risk of exploitation by two men in their twenties.
They found Merseyside Police was not consistently flagging groomers and their victims on their systems, meaning other agencies could not be alerted to any vulnerability. The force currently has 425 active child sexual exploitation flags.
Merseyside Police was found to be doing well in other areas, including domestic abuse, and inspectors said officers and staff were “committed and dedicated, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances”.
HMICFRS ordered improvements on the way police draw up strategies to help children at risk, and find appropriate adults to safeguard victims and children who are detained by police.
The watchdog said Merseyside Police’s performance measures are currently based on the number of child protection incidents and cases, rather than outcomes for victims.
The 5,706-strong force polices the five boroughs of Merseyside, with a population of 1.4 million.
Merseyside Police must now respond with an action plan within six weeks of the HMICFRS report and its 19 recommendations for improvements before another inspection within six months.
Assistant Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, said work had already started to address issues that were also found by an internal assessment.
“I can reassure the public that we recognise the importance of managing sex offenders appropriately and continually review our policies, processes and the training given to staff to ensure they are able to assess and manage the risk posed by individual offenders,” she added.
“In the last nine years the number of registered sex offenders on Merseyside has doubled. As a result the force is looking at how it can increase its capacity through the provision of extra staff and demand management.
“Protecting children, especially those who are most vulnerable, is one of the most important things we do as a police force and we are determined to improve.”
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