Police train local businesses to spot child sex abuse
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A 12-week programme of action to tackle Northamptonshire Police’s four Matters of Priority is currently underway. Violence Against Women and Girls is the focus of the second week of surge activity for the Force. Police officers and emergency service cadets are out across the county this week proactively sharing information about Operation Makesafe in order to help local businesses spot child abuse.
Operation Makesafe is a national policing initiative which has been running in Northamptonshire for a number of years. It was developed to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and child criminal exploitation (CCE) in the business community.
Local and national evidence shows that CSE and CCE can take place in hotels, pubs, cafes and places licensed to sell alcohol. Taxis can also be used to transport young people who are then exploited.
The Force has been working to make sure people employed in these environments can spot the warning signs and have the confidence to report their concerns.
As well as providing businesses with posters, advice and information, Northamptonshire police officers have developed a bespoke training programme.
Detective Sergeant Gary Turvey explains: “In Northamptonshire, the Operation Makesafe team have been working in partnership for some time with the local hotel industry, to ensure that hoteliers are both aware of and proactive in tackling CSE/CCE and any potential linked offences that criminals may either carry out or seek to carry out on their premises.
“Following feedback from the hotels we visited, they told us they would welcome further police input and direction around best-practice, so we created, developed and now deliver a training and wellbeing package - bespoke for the hotel industry.
“We train hotel managers and staff to spot any potential indicators of exploitation, to be on the lookout for warning signs, and if necessary know how to alert police officers to intervene to stop any young person coming to harm.
Police Sergeant Andy Shears explains further: “We then follow up the training by initiating our venue testing phase - aka a test purchase. There are a number of police tactics and scenarios we use. The basic testing model is the deployment of an undercover police officer acting as a stooge and a police cadet volunteer.
“The stooge and cadet are briefed in advance of the deployment; they would then approach the venue and would ask to book a room for themselves to use. During the encounter obvious cues would be provided to the hotel staff that should arouse their suspicion as to a potential safeguarding concern and an exploitation CSE/CCE risk being present.
“The training we provide not only helps staff to be alert, it also helps hotels to develop their policies and training around safeguarding, exploitation risks, signs and trends. Any local hoteliers who haven’t yet taken advantage of the training we offer should get in touch so they too can do their bit to keep youngsters in the county safe. ”
Staff at the Holiday Inn on Geddington Road are one of the hotels in the county to benefit from this type of training.
Anne Grant, Operations Manager at the Holiday Inn, Geddington Road said: “So far, our hotel has received two separate training inputs and been subject to two test purchase events. All of it has been a brilliant experience. The staff have found the training sessions very engaging and informative, often talking about them for weeks afterwards.
“The test purchases have also been valuable and allowed us to put in practice and demonstrate what we have learnt. The feedback from the police has been great. The operations are not about catching people out or blaming hotel venues, it’s about raising our awareness of exploitation and the warning signs. It has reinforced the need for us to be professionally curious and if something doesn’t look right to have the confidence to challenge the behaviours and call the police.”
Detective Chief Inspector Nickie Deeks, the Force lead for Violence Against Women and Girls said: “This operation is an example of great partnership work with police, the hotel industry and our emergency service cadets working collaboratively to keep our community safe.
“We know that exploitation is likely to be under-reported, so we rely on people being alert and well-informed about some of the ways that children could be groomed.
“We will continue our efforts to make sure people employed in these environments are able to spot the warning signs and have the confidence to easily report their concerns. We would far rather someone alerted us and for it to be a false alarm, than for us to miss a chance to investigate or safeguard a vulnerable person.”
Women and Girls are disproportionately affected by crimes of violence and abuse which is why Violence Against Women and Girls is one of four Matters of Priority for Northamptonshire Police - the others are Drug Harm, Serious and Organised Crime and Serious Violence.