Tackling Organised Exploitation (TOEX) project enhances response to tackling and preventing vulnerable people exploitation
The Tackling Organised Exploitation (TOEX) project, is a national project between the NPCC and NCA, seeking to enhance the response to tackling and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable people. Led by NPCC lead for Child Protection & Abuse Investigation, Chief Constable Simon Bailey and NCA Threat Director, Rob Jones, it aims to shift away from a silo approach, which can result in organised exploitation being dealt with in isolation. To meet and mitigate these challenges, a holistic, threat-neutral operating model to tackle and prevent organised exploitation will be developed.
In January 2020, the Home Office commissioned this national project to be delivered as part of the NPCC Violence and Public Protection portfolio. Subject to further funding, as part of the 2020 Autumn Spending Review, the long-term plan for the TOEX project is for organised exploitation to be targeted in permanent, ROCU-based ‘Exploitation Hubs’, as part of a national network. These hubs will be the nerve-centres of policing’s fight against organised exploitation, which will be able to harvest and assess intelligence and data, analyse and understand patterns of offending, assess threat and prioritise actions, and task local, regional and national law enforcement responses to this type of criminality. This includes, but is not limited to, organised and group-based child sexual abuse and exploitation, county lines and modern slavery.
Organised Exploitation – the challenges
Some of our biggest challenges sit within our traditional approach to tackling organised
exploitation and our established siloed approach to intelligence and tasking means we are
generating an incomplete threat picture, inevitably affecting decision-making. The tendency
is to focus on short-term fixes and disruption, often with a heavy emphasis on the “pursue”
element, and while this can lead to positive local results such as convictions, it often means
that the high-level elements of criminality further upstream do not attract sufficient focus. We
are dealing with local manifestations piecemeal, rather than targeting the core.
Targeted funding has often been centred on tackling an emerging crisis, creating short, not
long-term resolutions. Meanwhile, while policing has territorial borders, criminality does not,
and local outcomes may simply serve to displace or divert organised criminality, or in the
worst-case scenario, create further vulnerability in the form of a vacuum, which requires new
victims to meet the exploiters’ needs and maintain their profits.
This siloed, singular process removes the opportunity to flex, and respond with sufficient
resources to new and emerging threats – or to pre-empt their emergence.
The exploitation landscape today is complex and needs a sophisticated solution.
The TOEX vision and opportunities – threat neutral, whole picture view
The TOEX project establishes a holistic approach to tackling organised exploitation of the vulnerable.
By moving out of traditional silo-based working, we can better share information and intelligence, and through that process develop a rich national picture, which benefits the local response, but also informs the national perspective. This means that an effective local resolution will not only protect victims and pursue criminals, but through the TOEX operating model, policing will also be enabled to take account of the wider national impact, creating the opportunity to get ahead of the criminal, and remove openings for further exploitation. This is key to targeting and neutralising “upstream” criminality, who may be left unscathed in the traditional siloed approach (despite a highly successful local policing outcome), and simply move their focus and their criminality elsewhere.
The TOEX project does not seek to achieve these outcomes through expensive and disruptive change and remodelling. Instead, the project will harness existing resources and structures, which will be channelled through an operating model, which provides for collaborative and more efficient and effective working. In collaboration with the NCA’s National Data Exploitation Capability (NDEC) and National Assessment Capability (NAC), this will be centred on the established Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs), with a small national team providing oversight.
The operating model provides for the scoping of the scale and nature of organised exploitation from an offending and victim perspective. It provides a modern solution, which dovetails into existing structures, removing borders, boundaries and barriers, and creating opportunities to reduce organised criminality and the threat of harm.
Under existing methods, the policing approach can be heavily focused on the “pursue” element. The holistic TOEX model recognises the importance of all four elements – protect, pursue, prevent, and prepare – and focuses equally on each. This is key to ensuring and supporting a threat-neutral approach with far reaching and long-lasting impact.
The TOEX model is not a short-term solution. Organised criminality continues to evolve and refine its methods, and the policing response requires future proofing, as well as enhanced capability in the here and now.
Seeking Continuous Improvement
The Tackling Organised Exploitation project works from a firm evidence-based approach.
For this reason, a number of case study reviews have been undertaken, which demonstrate the outcomes achievable under the current structures, and those possible under the TOEX model. This includes reflecting and embedding the knowledge from lessons learnt, to support continuous improvement in this threat area. The case study outlined below is an example of this process.
Child Criminal Exploitation
This case study explores acquisitive crime being enabled by the apparent organised exploitation of successive generations of children, many of whom go on to become exploiters themselves. The focus is not only on identifying and on pursuing the organising element of these groups, but ensuring those affected are safeguarded.
Through the TOEX visualisation of aggregated national datasets, a significant number of shoplifting offences committed by non-British children were identified in Suffolk. Further research identified a group of four children, highlighted as having committed multiple shoplifting offences nationally over a number of years, including spree offences in Dorset, South Wales and London. The timing of these offences suggests the children were being moved on a frequent basis, across the country, often as part of a group in order to undertake large-scale shop theft, before being moved to a new location. Not only does this simple methodology frustrate opportunities for businesses and law enforcement to prevent and detect offences, but also more importantly, it hinders those children from having a settled, law-abiding and nurturing upbringing.
TOEX analysis of home address and crime locations connected these initial four children to nine other vulnerable children. Ultimately links were revealed to adults involved in; ongoing group-based child criminal exploitation police investigations; previous human trafficking operations; the sexual exploitation of young women; and companies used as apparent fronts for money laundering.
Intelligence has been shared by the project team to support appropriate safeguarding and disruptions, but a national TOEX response would provide the means to identify and disrupt the organised exploitation of the vulnerable in any guise.
Shoplifting is understandably not the responsibility of regional or national assets; however, a thorough intelligence picture regarding the exploitation of vulnerable persons, money laundering and links to serious and organised crime is likely to influence the allocation of law enforcement and partnership resources. Therefore, this is an opportunity for UK law enforcement to bridge a gap and prevent the proliferation of this type of criminality, interrupting the ongoing cycle of abuse and exploitation of children.
The project is currently progressing as a result of Government funding of £760,000 in 2019. This has allowed conceptualisation and initial consultation to progress the TOEX model. In order for the project to advance, a Spending Review bid was required, which would provide from 2021 onwards. Following Home Office announcements in September, and assuming one-year spending review periods, approval is now being sought on options for further national funding from 2022 onwards as part of the three-year programme of work. The Spending Review is likely to be announced towards the end of the year.
If you would like to know more about a particular area of the project, have any questions, or wish to share feedback, please feel free to email the project team on TOEX@norfolk.pnn.police.uk.
Alternatively, there is a TOEX group on the Police ICT Knowledge Hub, which provides key project updates to members as well as giving accessibility to information and guidance documents. To join, please click here.