A dedicated team of detectives will combat human trafficking in West Yorkshire as part of efforts by police and the police and crime commissioner to tackle slavery gangs.
A new dedicated Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) is now in the process of becoming operational and 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 which has been identified as a key issue by West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark- Burns Williamson.
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 related offending.
It is believed to be only the third of its kind in the country 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.
Work by the detectives will be complemented by the start-up of a West Yorkshire Anti Trafficking Network (WYATN) with charity Hope For Justice which will train almost 3,500 police staff, as well as staff from partner agencies about how to spot the signs of trafficking and tackle it.
The training, which will be delivered by Hope for Justice in partnership with West Yorkshire Police, is being funded by cash secured by Mr Burns-Williamson from the Home Office.
Both initiatives follow a conference hosted last year by the PCC to spread awareness of human trafficking and to lay the groundwork for coordinated efforts to address the issue.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, of West Yorkshire Police, said the formation of a trafficking prevention unit showed how seriously authorities took the issue. He said “Human trafficking is a vile crime, and the resources we are dedicating to this new unit makes clear how determined we are to tackle it and bring those responsible to justice.
“Last year the number of human trafficking victims referred by West Yorkshire Police to the national referral mechanism doubled from 2013 from 42 to 84, showing the scale of the problem, but also demonstrating that victims are more willing to come to us.
“We have been working closely with Hope For Justice to support these victims and also secure evidence against those abusing them.”
The DCI said the new unit was intended to complement the work already ongoing within West Yorkshire Police to tackle trafficking, but to provide extra support for complex cases.
He added: “What this new team will do is give us extra capability to investigate the larger organised crime gangs bringing trafficking victims into our region, and to provide extra support to divisions managing human slavery investigations locally.
“By managing these cases through our Serious and Organised Crime Unit we can ensure all the resources we bring to bear to investigate the most complex conspiracies can be used to target traffickers operating at a national and international level.”
Mr Burns-Williamson said: “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 WYATN to put their lives back together and it means victims are subsequently more confident in coming forward to the police.
“Training with front line staff around human trafficking has created an increased understanding of the signs of this crime and its implications, but there is more we need to do and this dedicated response unit is part of that, as it is targeting those perpetrators ruining people’s lives with this awful crime.
“They need to know they have no place to hide, and victims need to know that in West Yorkshire the resources and support are in place to protect them and that is why it was made a priority within this year’s Police and Crime Plan.”