Stephen Watson disclosed this week that a number of police officers are the subject of probes by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into allegations that they abused children in Rotherham.
The exact number has not been disclosed, but Chief Con Watson made the admission during a discussion about the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, which was laid bare in an independent report which found that 1,400 children were abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage while those in authority failed to act.
Professor Alexis Jay's damning report, published in 2014, found that police 'treated victims with contempt' and failed to investigate while Rotherham council failed to protect vulnerable children.
Chf Con Watson admitted his force, which he joined over the summer, played a 'significant part' in failures identified in Rotherham as part of the child sex scandal, but said improvements have now been made.
He described failures to recognise and help victims as 'totally inexplicable and unforgiveable'.
"What went on in Rotherham was a total systemic failure and it was a failure in which South Yorkshire Police played a significant part," he said.
"The reality is we were dealing with difficult kids and nobody could see past the difficult behaviours that these youngsters were presenting.
"It just seems that there was this weird 'group think' at the time, when nobody seemed to pause and say 'potentially the reason why these kids are behaving in a difficult way is because they are really troubled kids who have been abused, and actually their behaviours were precisely because they were being abused by paedophiles'.
"I just cannot explain why we didn't past the difficult behaviours and go for the perpetrators of what is the worst form of exploitation, and that's abusing children.
"Stuff has been passed onto the IPCC who are actively looking into all of those cases. In some cases there are suggestions that officers themselves were involved in the abuse of children and those issues need to come through due process."
He said his force had to accept its past failings.
"The vast majority of officers complained about were complained about in the sense that they had not spotted these things, they had not dealt with these things, they weren't professionally curious in the sense of getting a grip of the stuff and seeing the evidence as was before their eyes," he added.
"We have as an organisation to take it on the chin. There were things happening in front of us that we just did not spot and if we did spot we lacked the professionalism, the professional curiosity to actually do what the public pay us for and for that there is no defence I'm afraid.
"It's one of those things that we have to cop for, but it is something that we are absolutely committed to making sure we put right and our practice today is, I would suggest, is a completely different ballgame to what happened in the past."
In February, during a trial of a gang of men convicted of sexually exploiting and abusing girls in Rotherham, collusion between police officers and offenders was suggested.
Allegations were made that South Yorkshire Police officers passed information and drugs to a Rotherham child grooming ring and acted to protect serial child abusers Arshid and Basharat Hussain from prosecution.
One victim also alleged a detective at the force ‘had sex with girls’ linked to the grooming gang.
At that time, the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed it had received a total of 194 complaints from 41 people about the conduct of police officers in relation to Rotherham child sexual exploitation cases.
The watchdog said investigations covered 'a range of allegations from a failure to act on reported child sexual exploitation to corruption by police officers’.