An Essex VVU initiative to have Police safeguarding officers attached to Police OpRaptor teams* has seen positive success in the early identification of young vulnerable people who are being exploited by criminal gangs. The safeguarding officers proactively identify young people who they believe are being exploited.
This is achieved by officers attending operations which target organised crime groups and County Lines as well as reviewing daily morning custody records to identify any young person who is at potential risk. A primary role of the safeguarding officers is to ensure intensive safeguarding of individuals through custody and post custody, especially for the first 48 hours.
The officers provide support and safeguarding to identified young people, ensuring that appropriate referrals are made to partner agencies who can provide specialist support for the young person to ensure they can safely remove themselves from risky situations and provide support which is responsive to their individual needs.
One example of the success of this intervention is a young person who had been in care for several years experiencing multiple difficulties in his early years through adverse childhood experiences (such as experiencing domestic abuse at home at a young age before being placed into local authority care). The young person had been missing from his ‘home’ county (some distance from Essex) for several weeks and was known to have been associating with drug dealers and believed to be exploited by a local drugs line.
Upon the young person being located by Essex Police he was assigned to an Op Raptor Safeguarding Officer. They began working in collaboration with Social Care and Police from the young person’s home area (in the north of England), ensuring that they were fully aware of all risks he had been exposed to while in Essex and highlighted ongoing concerns.
The safeguarding officer ensured the physical hand over to Social Care (from the other county), meeting halfway between Essex and the young person’s home location, and instituted a Community Protection Warning to attempt to place conditions on the young person and control his movements, one of the conditions was not to return to the Essex area. Having this condition in place allowed a co-ordinated response from agencies to manage any potential breaches, and in the event of a breach for swift action to be taken if required to safeguard the young person and mitigate risks. The emphasis of this was all under the umbrella of being responsive to the young person’s need and to actively safeguard them.
Through thorough examination of the case by the Op Raptor safeguarding officer, including reviewing the young person’s phones, they were able to establish the young person was the victim of exploitation and forced labour and switched the case to one of Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking against the other people arrested.
The safeguarding officer was also able to work with the individual who was at risk, obtaining a place for them at secure accommodation in a northern city. This is testament to the positive relationship the safeguarding officer built with the young person.
This young person was subject to a positive NRM (national referral mechanism) notification and has not gone missing since.
Every time a young person goes missing, in addition to the risk and potential harm to the young person, the estimated cost in police resources alone is approximately £1,325.44 (and this is considered a conservative estimate).
*Note: Within Essex Police, the dedicated OpRaptor teams are responsible for identifying and tackling County Lines. There are six Op Raptor teams across the county comprising of accredited detectives who investigate the very complex criminality of County Lines. Each of these six teams include a safeguarding officer, identifying those at risk and, as part of police activity, looking to safeguard those who are being exploited ensuring follow-up support. The OpRaptor teams not only respond locally to those that supply drugs at a street level, but they also conduct enquiries to establish the identity of those that manage County Lines and links to organised crime groups and sits at the heart of the government’s ten-year drugs strategy ‘From Harm to Hope’. OpRaptor is part of the Police Serious Violence Unit (SVU) and in a recent inspection from the Home Office, the SVU was praised for its ‘whole systems approach’ being identified as a best practice approach. The work being conducted by the SVU is supporting the Essex VVP in reducing serious violence.
**Note: National Crime Agency (NCA) “The Cost of Missing Persons Investigations” (2013)