22nd Oct, 2020

Communities across Worcestershire urged to help protect children, young people and the vulnerable from criminal exploitation

COMMUNITIES across Worcestershire are being urged to help protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from criminal exploitation during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Now the time we have to spend at home has been extended, West Mercia Police want people to look out for signs of criminal activity, such as the influence of county line drug dealers.

They often exploit young or vulnerable people, coercing them to sell drugs and carry out crimes, initially through sophisticated grooming techniques, then often through fear and violence.

These tactics can mean the young person is in the gangs’ debt, owing favours such as carrying weapons or selling drugs.

And they do not think twice with putting young or vulnerable people at risk to make money.

Knowing the signs to spot can help victims before it is too late where they could get hurt or do something they end up regretting.

Assistant Chief Constable Damian Barratt said: “Our communities play a crucial role in helping us both prevent and detect crime, and vitally to protect those who are vulnerable from being targeted by criminals looking to exploit them, even during lockdown.

“We know these criminals will be looking at different ways to operate to reduce their chances of getting caught and I want to reassure communities that we continue to actively target organised crime right across the force area.

“The public can play a vital role in supporting our work.

“They will see and hear things, and if it concerns them, we want to know.

“Over the past few years we have trained more than 10,000 people to spot the signs of vulnerability and exploitation and want to extend that wider to make sure we are all doing what we can to safeguard those who are our most vulnerable.

“With people spending more time at home they may see suspicious or out of the ordinary behaviour in their neighbourhood, for example unexpected visitors or a young person suddenly turning up at a neighbour’s house who is not their child.

“It may be this is genuine but it could also be connected to county lines and if someone is concerned we want to know.

“Likewise, as children and young people are spending more time at home, parents may notice a change in their behaviour.

“Perhaps they seem withdrawn or secretive, have money or expensive gifts that can’t be accounted for or have started associating with older individuals or associating with gangs.

“We are continuing to work with our local authorities and partner agencies to make sure we are doing all we can to safeguard those at risk and if anyone is concerned we would encourage them to get in contact.”

Signs of drug dealing include:-

  • Unexpected visitors coming and going from a neighbour’s house at all hours of the day or night.
  • Continual stream of visitors who don’t stay long, or who arrive with electrical items, bikes or bags but leave without them.
  • Potential transactions carried out through car windows outside properties.
  • Cars parked for long periods without moving, but with continual visits to collect items from within the car.
  • A young person (who is not their child) suddenly living in a neighbour’s house.

Signs a young person might be being groomed or exploited:

  • A child or young person repeatedly going missing from home or their care home.
  • Significant changes in the well-being of a child or young person – they might be more angry or withdrawn than normal.
  • Had they started to hang around with different or older people, have an older boy or girlfriend and perhaps aren’t seeing their existing friends as much before lockdown?
  • Are they coming home with money or items they can’t afford, or they are unwilling explain where they got them – such as phones, expensive trainers or clothes?

Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries.

  • Being secretive about where they are, what they are doing, who they are seeing.
  • Will they let you look in their bags or pockets?
  • Will they let you look at their phone, are they secretive about who is calling or messaging? Do they have multiple mobile phones?
  • Are they scared to go out or perhaps reticent to go to certain places?
  • A lone child from outside of the area.

Many of these signs might just be down to typical teenage challenges and part of growing up, exam pressures, boredom in lockdown, teenage relationships or other stressful issues. But they could also be signs that a young person is being groomed or used by criminals or gangs.

Concerns can be reported online at

https://www.westmercia.police.uk/ro/report/ocr/af/how-to-report-a-crime/.

People can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the crimestoppers-uk.org website.

Young people can pass on information anonymously at fearless.org where they can also find further information and advice.

If a crime is in progress or there is a risk to life, people should always call 999.

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