Police are urging Northamptonshire parents and carers to be aware of the risk of grooming by criminal gangs as schools break up for the summer holidays.
Last week the force launched Operation Viper, a crackdown on gangs who are involved in drugs, firearms and violence offences.
Many of the gangs involved in this type of criminality prey on children to work for them as drug runners or to conceal weapons.
Today (Friday) the force is calling on parents to speak to their children about the dangers of getting involved in gangs and to be aware of who their children are mixing with during the school holidays.
Detective Inspector Emma Nealon from the Serious and Organised Crime Team, said: “The summer holidays are a great chance for children to unwind from school and relax with their friends and family, however, we are urging parents and carers to be aware of the potential grooming that could take place.
“We know that gang members, some still in their teens, are approaching children as young as eight and nine and grooming them with the intention of getting them involved in drug activity.
“In recent cases we have seen gang members giving young children money while out playing games or running small errands to the shop.
“This can quickly escalate to being asked to deliver parcels for money that contain drugs.
“Appropriate safeguards have been put in place around these cases, however we don’t want any others to fall into this trap.”
Parents and carers are advised to speak to their children about what to do should they be approached by strangers, no matter who they are.
Det Insp Nealon added: “The school holidays are an ideal time for parents to speak to their children about stranger danger and what they should do if they are approached by someone they don’t know.
“Advice for children includes never go off with a stranger, take things from them or get in a car with them, even if they seem familiar to you.
“Make sure you tell parents where you are and if someone scares you, or makes you feel uncomfortable, asks you to do something or gives you gifts or money, go somewhere safe and remember to tell someone what has happened straight away.”
Anyone who is worried about a child who they think may be being groomed by a gang is urged to contact the police for advice.
Det Insp Nealon said: “I understand that contacting the police may be scary, however I want to stress that our priority is to help keep any child who has been approached by a gang safe.
“If any child is concerned about a friend I urge them to speak to a trusted adult and ask for their advice, whether that’s a parent, friend’s parent, youth worker or police officer.
“It is vitally important that parents and carers are aware of the dangers that their children could face and know what to do if they are worried.
“All you have to do is call us on 101. Further advice and information about gangs is available on our website.”
This video from the NSPCC also contains some useful advice for anyone concerned about a young person’s involvement in a gang: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/staying-safe-away-from-home/gangs-young-people/.
Most teenagers don’t commit crimes or get involved in gangs but it’s important to be aware of the signs that someone you know might be.
These can include: not hanging around with their usual friends, coming home late or staying out more than usual, being secretive and withdrawn, hanging around with different people, having unexplained injuries, taking drugs, carrying weapons, skipping school, talking differently such as using new slang words, suddenly having a lot of money and being able to afford expensive things like phones and watches, or wearing different and more expensive clothes.