Doncaster gangs targetting youngsters who have never been in trouble: Police column
Criminal gangs in Doncaster are targeting children who have not been in trouble with the law before – and we’re stepping up the fight to stop them, writes Det Ch Insp Anna Sedgwick.
Anyone can be a victim of child criminal exploitation. Vulnerable victims are at risk of being forced to sell drugs by organised crime groups.
Previously we saw young teenage boys being targeted but now, our intelligence picture suggests that groups are now going for ‘clean skins’. This means they’re targeting young boys and girls, who aren’t known to police or any other partner agencies.
In order to be able to identify those involved, both the victims and criminals, we need the public and those who work with children to know the signs to look out for.
This week, we took to the streets of Doncaster and ran a day of action to raise awareness around what is known as Child Criminal Exploitation.
This is where children sometimes as young as 12, are recruited by members of organised crime groups.
We continue to work closely with staff from Doncaster Children’s Services Trust and visited a number of young people who have either been exploited through county lines or who are susceptible to it.
People who could be vulnerable to exploitation include care leavers, or children already known to the local authority.
In a lot of cases they may not know they’ve been exploited, or even know the signs of exploitation. During our visits we talk to them about the signs to spot. For example someone might ask them to look after a package for them, to get them drugs, or to use their flat to deal drugs from.
Throughout the day, we also spoke to local businesses and taxi ranks. The current information we have suggests that children involved in drug dealing are using taxis quite frequently. By working with local taxi firms we hope that they’ll now have the knowledge and information needed to call us, should they have any concerns about a young person.
There are some key signs to spot, that might indicate that someone has been targeted by a gang and is a victim of CCE.
Is the person going missing from school or home on a regular basis? Do they have new clothes, phones or money, but can’t explain how they got them?
Are they getting lots of texts and phone calls and being particularly secretive about them? You may have noticed a significant change in their behaviour.
Or have they become involved with older people or groups of new ‘friends’ who seem to be quite controlling?
In order to be able to identify those involved, both the victims and criminals, we need members of the public and professionals, such as teachers, to be aware of what CCE and the signs to look out for.
We have a lot of ongoing work planned in order to protect the Children in Doncaster; For instance, joint police and children’s service training has been given to over 200 people, and workshops are being run by police and children’s services staff to education safeguarding staff, schools, and foster carers.
We are making people more aware of the risks, and helping children remain within their own communities while doing work to protect them and disrupt and prosecute offenders, close down properties of concern and reduce the risk. There is also a dedicated police team working to disrupt those criminals who may try to exploit children.
If you’re concerned about someone, or think you yourself might have been exploited, please call us on 101 or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.