THE nature of police demand across the county is changing and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, is an absolute priority, according to Lancashire Constabulary’s Head of Crime.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Critchley has outlined the ways that the force is working to tackle child abuse and exploitation following the publication of two inspection reports by HMIC about the role of police in keeping children safe and how forces deal with online sexual abuse of children.
The reports highlighted areas for improvement both nationally and locally and called for forces to reassess their approach to child protection.
Det Ch Supt Critchley said: “Protecting the public from harm and abuse, particularly the most vulnerable, is an absolute priority for Lancashire Constabulary and it is within this area that we have seen a large increase in our caseload over the last few years.
“We are proud of our approach to protecting vulnerable people and protecting our communities from the harm of organised criminality, and we have been recognised nationally around our work in tackling child sexual exploitation. We are not complacent in any way and we are continuing to seek to develop our service against a backdrop of austerity”
Whilst reported crime in the more traditional policing areas has gone down through a problem solving approach, it has been recognised that societal changes mean that demand is increasing and the nature of harm against young people is changing.
In Lancashire there was a rise for more than 20% between 2012 and 2015 in the number of reports of sexual offences committed against under 16’s and a rise of nearly 24% in the number of referrals made around child sexual exploitation in the same time period.
There has also been in increase in the number of reports of historic child abuse and a team of specialist officers investigating these allegations are currently working on more than 20 active investigations.
He added: “The public quite rightly expect the police to deal with and protect them from the likes of child abuse, CSE, online and cybercrime and we continue to face the challenge in terms of resources, time and expertise, to balance offering routes to justice for those who suffered in the past while safeguarding and protecting children in a vulnerable position now.
“The nature of demand is changing and we are responding to that, but these demands aren’t always the ones visible to the public. For example we have a team of officers dedicated to proactively policing the internet and identifying those seeking to groom young people and share abhorrent indecent child abuse images. This team has already arrested more than 110 individuals so far this year as a result of their investigative work. Another area that isn’t visible to the public is the management of around 1,700 registered sexual and violent offenders on a daily basis.
“The aim has always got to be to stop and prevent harm in the first place by investing upstream in early action initiatives. We aim to ensure that when harm and abuse has occurred that people are confident to come forward and seek help straight away, but we do recognise this can take time and with historic cases, victims are only now overcoming personal challenges and gaining the strength to report what has happened to them many years ago. We encourage this and will treat every enquiry sensitively, professionally and we will investigate thoroughly.
Commenting on the reports, he said: “Whilst elements of the HMIC reports are disappointing and highlight the gaps around the protection of children and policing online child abuse crimes, we are determined to continue to learn, work with communities, victims and partners to increase awareness, the confidence to report incidents and provide the necessary support to victims throughout the investigation.
“There are many national cases that clearly demonstrate the human impact and cost where things go wrong, but we have learnt lessons from the past and are striving for an even better future.
“It is absolutely necessary and our continued commitment to use proactive intelligence gathering to identify offenders whether they work alone or in an organised way, and stop them committing harm and abuse to young people.
“We strive for excellence in all areas of policing, and none more so than in our protection of children to keep them safe from being abused and exploited. We are committed to rooting it out and stopping it from happening.”
If you are concerned that you or a young person you know may be the victim of abuse or exploitation, call Lancashire Police on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.
This week also saw the launch of a new Freephone anonymous helpline funded by The Department for Education (DfE) and a joint initiative between NWG Network and the charity Missing People.
The helpline is dedicated for young people to report, seek advice or discuss concerns about themselves or others in relation to CSE. The line will be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year by trained and experienced staff and volunteers who will offer the chance to share information with police. The number to text or call is 116 000.
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