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Why we all have a role to play in protecting the vulnerable

In her latest blog, Alison talks about protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and the importance of educating professionals on how to spot the signs.

Although anyone can be a victim of crime experience tells us that those with learning disabilities are disproportionately affected by criminal activities and less likely to report their experience to the police. This could be for a variety of reasons: they don’t always understand what’s happening to them, the people around them don’t know how to spot the signs of hidden criminal activity or, sadly, when they try to speak up, they aren’t taken seriously.

This is something PC Kate Marks noticed and wanted to change.

Kate, along with Jo Morgan from Devon Link-Up, a charity which supports adults with learning disabilities, won funding from my office as part of our connectivity fund to put on training sessions for professionals working with vulnerable adults across Devon. A total of six sessions were put on across the county, highlighting key safeguarding and crime prevention messages delivered by relevant experts from across the force. Social workers, carers, health professionals and many more attended the training.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the session in Okehampton and it was extremely valuable to hear from the experts about ways in which malicious criminals target some of the most vulnerable in our communities, how the police handle these incidents, especially in relation to vulnerable people but most importantly how to prevent the situations from happening in the first place.

In the coffee break the room was buzzing with chatter about they could take their new found knowledge back to their day jobs and put it to good use.

Criminal activity is always changing and looks very different compared to even five years ago, particularly in relation to drugs. Just the other week I wrote about the complex world of county lines in this column and briefly touched on cuckooing.

Cuckooing is a relatively new term in policing and refers to a criminal purposefully targeting or befriending a vulnerable person and taking over their home as a place to sell, supply or store drugs. Some of the tell-tale signs that someone might be a victim of cuckooing include an increase in people entering and leaving a property, more bikes and cars outside, a possible increase in anti-social behaviour and signs of drug use.

Other subjects covered included sextortion and illegal loan sharks. I wrote about loan sharks last week after talking at length to Dave Monk from our illegal money lending team. These people target others because of their vulnerability, seeming friendly at first but quickly creating a tidal wave of misery and trapping victims in a spiral of debt.

Sextortion can have the same effect. It is a form of blackmail where sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favours or money from a victim. I’m sure we can all be guilty of thinking those with learning disabilities don’t use the internet in the same way as most of us or don’t engage in sexual activity but this is simply not true.

It can be easy for carers, social workers or health visitors to think that a lack of food in the house might be due to irresponsible spending rather than illicit activity. This is why educating those who support our learning disabled community is so important. If we can equip them with the tools they need to spot the signs and they know who to report to we are able to safeguard even more vulnerable adults.

Feedback from the events was fantastic. Every single person who attended said they would like to see more workshops like this run in the future. So, I’d like to use this column to thank Kate and Jo for putting on such an informative set of workshops and in doing so better protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Criminal gangs are ruthless and do not care how much suffering they inflict on a person’s life, nor who they are or how vulnerable they might be, so any measures we can take to keep potential victims safe is extremely welcome.

What we have to remember is that education is key. Police can’t be everywhere all the time so each and every one of us, as members of our community, are the police’s eyes and ears on a regular basis.

If you suspect criminal activity of any kind please report it to the police by dialling 101 or email 101@dc.police.uk. Alternatively, if you would prefer to stay anonymous please contact Crimestoppers on 080055111.            

Alison Hernandez