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Modern day slavery – a pervasive and damaging crime that can impact any community

In her latest blog, PCC Alison Hernandez highlights how the Devon and Cornwall force is leading the way in making the UK a more hostile place for the perpetrators

The most rewarding part of my role is to get out of the office and meet local organisations, partners and really importantly, members of the public.  I encourage them to be straight talking with me, and most don’t need a second invitation!  I welcome constructive debate and I want to help and encourage people to make their voice heard!    
That was certainly the case at a recent public meeting I attended in Exmouth where almost 50 local residents came along to hear me speak and then throw a variety of questions at me.  For me, this kind of debate is vital and invigorating.  I want all of us to feel passionately about the future of our police force, and express their opinions loudly so that we can have a proper discussion. Apathy is our worst enemy. The Exmouth town crier was part of the audience, so I am sure he won’t have any problems in making his voice heard!
Because we were in Exmouth, I took the opportunity to share with the audience details about the national modern day slavery unit which is based at the local police station for the next few years.
That the heartbeat of the UKs police service response to Modern Slavery is here, in Devon and Cornwall is something our communities can be proud of. The Chief Constable, Shaun Sawyer is the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Modern Slavery and together we are custodians of a central government grant of £8.5 million to improve the way all Police Forces in England & Wales tackle this horrific crime of exploitation on some of the most vulnerable.
Modern Slavery is a pervasive crime in which offenders of all nationalities exploit and control their victims, often making a substantial profit on the back of illicit earnings. The government has now set an ambitious target to eradicate slavery globally by 2030, and the root of much of our efforts lies in making the UK a more hostile place for modern slavery offenders to operate.
In 2015 we saw the UK leading the world in the development of the Modern Slavery Act, which increased the sentences available to offenders and gave the police a range of additional powers to use to tackle exploitation, including tackling modern slavery on the high seas, and providing better support for victims.
Victims rarely identify themselves as such, and these investigations can be incredibly difficult to piece together. The police transformation programme that we are leading has been set up to give Forces the best possible start and for support across all stages of an investigation.
Investigators working in this area describe to me a wide range of inhumane ways in which people exploit, manipulate, control and abuse other people for their personal gain. One of the most frequently encountered types is sexual exploitation - vulnerable men and women, sometimes children, trafficked around or into the country, and forced into organised prostitution.
The modern slavery programme isn’t being run from Devon and Cornwall because we have a particular problem in the two counties, but it would be an anomaly if it wasn’t happening here.  Unsuspecting holiday accommodation or short term rented properties are occasionally identified operating as pop up brothels. It is hugely important as a community that we start to tackle these uncomfortable subjects, and open our eyes to the harm being done to others around us.
Hidden exploitation is particularly prevalent in the labour market, with knock on impacts to legitimate businesses who are easily undercut when a workforce is not being paid fairly.  
As customers we all have a role in questioning how services or products can possibly be well provided as cheaply as we demand, and there is much to be said for understanding the true provenance of goods that we buy.
The Morecambe Bay cockle picking disaster stunned the UK in 2004, prompting increased legislation and regulation to protect people working in farming, fisheries and agricultural sectors. Here in Devon & Cornwall we established some of the first Migrant Worker Police Community Support Officers in the country.
We now understand labour exploitation to be happening across service, manufacture and retail sectors: in care homes, construction, hotels and catering, all areas where our counties might be vulnerable. To a lesser extent, domestic servitude, and criminal exploitation are also likely to occur.
The police transformation programme that we are leading creates a team of 60 new intelligence and investigation support specialists, bringing together staff from a wide range of law enforcement agencies. Teams have been established across the whole of the UK, alongside extra staff in Europol and the National Crime Agency to help with the most complex of investigations.
A small number of Devon & Cornwall staff are working within the programme, to ensure we have a legacy of improved skills like how we protect victims, and how we can protect it.
Most of the roles were filled by officers from all over the country, or by people who bring new skills into policing: many of these are relocating to, or will be frequent visitors, to the programmes hub in Exmouth. Over the past few months, 50 investigators from across the country came here to learn how to better investigate slavery; over the coming year hundreds more will do the same.
Devon & Cornwall have an active Anti-Slavery partnership and there is a great foundation within our community safety partnerships to help raise awareness of this issue. Alongside being on the map for driving police improvement, it would be fantastic if our communities also became amongst the best in the country for identifying and uniting against slavery, starting with the people of Exmouth.  
We pride ourselves on knowing our communities well; we understand and notice when something is amiss.  Please watch out for those who may not have the freedom we take for granted, and report any concerns you have to the police, via Crimestoppers or by contacting the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121700.
The transformation programme grant is managed separately from the forces budget and is carefully scrutinised by myself in order to ensure it is being well spent.
I am grateful to our community in Exmouth for the opportunity to talk so openly about policing issues like this and what matters to them.  They were full of praise for their local policing team and it was clear that this is a very much a community who work together for the benefit of all.
I very much welcome any invitations to speak, take questions and hear suggestions at public meetings, so please contact my office directly if you would like to put a date in the diary.
Alison Hernandez