By Mark Burns Williamson
I have previously spoken out about the need for more awareness around how to tackle human trafficking and last year held the first event of its kind in West Yorkshire where partners came together to look at how we deal with this significant emerging threat.
Human trafficking can include forced labour, or services, domestic servitude, sexual offences and other forms of exploitation. Those descriptions do nothing to convey the true horror and nightmare faced by those human trafficked each and every day, with numbers steadily rising, although the true figure is probably much higher than we predict.
Since that event last April, events have gathered pace and we have recently announced the establishment of the West Yorkshire Anti-Trafficking Network, which is a network created by myself (OPCC) in conjunction with Hope for Justice, an anti-trafficking charity.
That network will help train up to 3,500 frontline staff and police officers to know how to detect the signs of someone being trafficked and how to tackle it and support the victims of this horrendous crime.
Now I am proud to be part of the new initiative by West Yorkshire Police to create a new dedicated Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) with the funding I set aside in last year’s budget for this to happen.
The unit will be made up of a dedicated team of detectives, who will work both locally and nationally to target organised crime lords seeking to traffic people into West Yorkshire.
It has been formed as part of a range of initiatives underway in West Yorkshire to combat trafficking, as well as Cyber Crime and CSE which I identified as key issues that needed dealing with in my Police and Crime Plan.
The new Human Trafficking Unit will be led by a dedicated detective inspector and staffed by specialist detectives and investigators who have all received training in investigating human trafficking and related offending.
It is only the second of its kind in England behind the MET police and has been set up as part of West Yorkshire’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and will use the full range of tactics and techniques used by SOCU to investigate the most complex criminal cases across the piece.
The creation of this dedicated response unit shows how West Yorkshire Police is leading the way in helping victims of human trafficking.
Those being helped by the unit will then be supported by the 3,500 people being trained by the network to put their lives back together and it means victims are subsequently more confident in coming forward to the police.
I have also spoken openly about my support for the Modern Slavery Bill which aims to increase the maximum custodial sentence for offenders from 14 years to life and there is cross party support for action to tackle this issue.
I have heard shocking cases of people being trafficked and forced into a life of misery. This is happening in modern day society and I, along with West Yorkshire Police and partners, will do everything in my power to stop these perpetrators of this vile crime in their tracks.
I have personally pledged to work with fellow Police and Crime Commissioners to tackle these issues and the role of the National Crime Agency is also key for joined up strategic working to deal with these vile crimes.
I want to warn those inflicting this awful practice on others that they will be dealt with severely by the courts as more awareness and support is offered to victims to come forward. There will be no hiding place for those thinking it is acceptable in the 21st century to inflict this kind of abuse on others.