ESSEX Police was the victim of 17 thefts from its own vehicles over two years.

The haul included a phone stolen from Colchester, police uniforms taken from Clacton and an electrical tracking device plundered in Braintree.

There was even the theft of a 16- seater minibus from the force’s headquarters in Chelmsford and cardboard cut-outs of policemen from Westcliff, near Southend, and Canvey Island.

A Freedom of Information request revealed items with a combined value of £26,691 were stolen in 2012 and 2013.

Culprits have been found in eight of the 18 cases.

The minibus was valued at £20,000 A police spokesman said: “The keys had been taken from a secure office by unknown means.

“The vehicle was driven a total of three miles and then returned to HQ.”

Items worth more than £3,000, including mobile phones, cameras and a police cycle, have been stolen and not recovered.

The spokesman said: “Our officers and staff are obviously aware of the need to take steps to secure any property left unattended.

“The nature of policing does mean, though, sometimes when responding to urgent incidents, property security cannot be the main priority.

“While sensible crime prevention measures can help reduce the risks of theft, they cannot eliminate them altogether and, inevitably, the force will occasionally become a victim itself. All these thefts will have been investigated.

“Those that currently remain undetected can be subject to further review, if new evidence comes to light.”

Suspects have not been identified in half of the 18 cases, including the minibus theft.

The list includes two thefts by a police employee, who took uniforms and accessories worth £2,500, plus £200 in cash, from police premises in Clacton in June 2012.