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Police identifying more victims of modern slavery than ever before

26 Mar 2018

The Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit has published its first annual report.

The report highlights the work of the Unit since it was set up in April 2017 to help forces support vulnerable victims and bring more perpetrators to justice.

The report demonstrates the significant increase in the number of modern slavery operations being led by the police, with the number of live operations tripling since 2015, when the Modern Slavery Act 2015 became law.

In February of this year police held 568 live Modern Slavery operations, more than triple the 188 being managed in December 2015.

Police force investigations are also driving the rise in referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery to the National Referral Mechanism, as announced today by the National Crime Agency. 

“The Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit, funded by the Home Office, is supporting forces and other agencies to improve the way modern slavery is tackled in the UK, and this rise is partly down to the increased awareness and proactivity of police,” says the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Modern Slavery, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer.

“It means police are identifying more victims of modern slavery than ever before, ensuring they get the support they need and exploitation is stopped.

“Identifying and investigating modern slavery is rarely clear cut. But the increase in police-led operations shows that police are recognising the signs of this incredibly complex crime. 

“However, we know there is still work to do and we will continue to improve how we deal with modern slavery and support victims.

“Modern slavery is a crime that crosses borders and requires many agencies to work together. International cooperation is often necessary, sometimes from countries where slavery is not even recognised as a crime. 

 “As highlighted in the annual report, a huge amount of work has gone into increasing our understanding of the complexities of tackling modern slavery. For example, the Unit has developed the National Modern Slavery Operations Database which means we have an overview of operational activity in all 43 police forces for the first time. It is also developing an evidence base for developing best practice and training.

“The national police transformation programme brings together experts from 20 different national and international organisations, including Europol. It helps bridge the gap between forces and other agencies and facilitates information sharing on local, national and international levels.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and National Police and Crime Commissioner Lead for Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery says:We have come a long way in recent years to improve the identification and recovery of potential victims of human trafficking and modern slavery who are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. 

“As Chair of the National Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery Network for PCCs in England and Wales, I am greatly encouraged by the significant progress made in the police and partner response to modern slavery over the last twelve months and the work of the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Programme to influence and support this progress. 

“I also welcome the announcement of reforms to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which will help to improve the identification and support for victims.

“I will continue my commitment with PCC colleagues and partners in this area and help to drive forward our collective efforts regionally and nationally, working together with partners such as the Modern Slavery Transformation Unit, NCA, voluntary/charity organisations and policing generally in tackling the vile crimes associated with human trafficking.”

The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins says: “Modern slavery and trafficking are cruel and wicked crimes that see perpetrators target some of the most vulnerable in society.

 “This Government is leading world in responding to this horrendous crime. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 gives law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery, including maximum life sentences for perpetrators and enhanced protection for victims.  

 “Via the Police Transformation Fund the Home Office provided Devon & Cornwall Police £8.5 million to transform the national policing response. This has helped to provide funding for over 60 new and dedicated roles focused on strengthening the operational response. There is much more to be done to end this despicable crime, but this report shows that we are seeing a step change in the police response to modern slavery.”