West Mercia Police is training people who work in public areas. They are being asked to report any suspicions they have involving adults and children.
The initiative was revealed today by Telford & Wrekin’s police boss Superintendent Tom Harding.
He said it was absolutely vital that the public act as the eyes and ears of police, adding: "We are looking at who is best placed to identify any concerning behaviour.
"We have worked with Telford Shopping Centre staff and the main hotels and binmen around CSE and vulnerability and in general terms how to look after each other.”
Supt Harding said officers are ensuring they have eyes and ears across the town at all times to spot signs of abuse.
His message today is that everyone has a responsibility to be aware and to report anything suspicious.
Supt Harding said: "I’ve got a limited number of police officers and we’re trying to ensure that Telford is as safe as possible.
"So we’re trying to educate and ensure that we have eyes and ears across the town at all times.
"We’re also working with housing officers and the fire service.
"It’s just asking people to have a questioning mindset and providing them with the tools to report it.
"It’s a rolling programme and we’re going to expand it out.”
Back in 2016 a martial arts coach from Telford was arrested by police after hotel staff rang the NSPCC with concerns when questioning a teenager he was sharing a room with.
Matthew Kendall, from Telford, was then arrested on suspicion of grooming and killed himself in October 2016. The 39-year-old was never charged before his death but the girl said she was groomed over a 22-month period, starting when she was 14.
In recent years there have been 39 reports of sexual grooming across the county.
Between January 2010 and December last year there have been 18 reports across Shropshire’s policing area and 21 reports in Telford & Wrekin, a Freedom of Information to West Mercia Police has revealed. The victims were aged between 10 and 15 at the time of the offences.
Supt Harding said he wanted reports of concerns – but did not support direct action from members of the public. He said there are times where groups take it upon themselves to try to sting potential criminals.
"We’ve had at least two or three reports a year where there’s no offence,” he said. "Obviously if anyone brings it to our attention we will look at it seriously but we don’t advise that groups start to take action into their own hands.
"We do have an online CSE team which works full time seeking to identify offenders but also those who may be vulnerable.”
He added that a number of the reports will be historic crimes.
"The majority of sexual offences that we investigate now are not recent offences, my priority is making sure people report crime, we are investigating yesterday’s offences,” he said.
"We do monitor the current offences and that is reducing. In general we’ve seen a reduction in crime over the last 18 months across most crime types.”
Supt Harding said child sexual exploitation is inextricably linked to grooming.
He said: "The individuals are groomed, that’s how they are brought into that world. We’re seeing the vast majority of offenders are white, middle class, middle-aged men.
"It’s a full spectrum of people from all types of backgrounds. People tend to stereotype these type of offences., but we have to keep a really open mind.”
Joe Hall, 26, who held a supervisory role at a school in Telford and also volunteered with a dance team, was found guilty of seven counts including multiple charges of sexual activity with children aged between 13 and 17.
The charges mainly related to activity over mobile phones, including sending and requesting sexual pictures and videos. Hall was handed a 30-month prison sentence in May.
Supt Harding said police are working to educate children about using the internet safely.
He said: "We’re aware of the vulnerabilities of children.
"We do a huge amount of work with educating young children about how to keep safe online.
"We advise them about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. They often get accounts and have thousands of friends but they don’t actually know that many people.
"We’ve got programmes where officers go into schools and will talk about real-life examples - it’s all age appropriate.
"We talk about how offenders often pretend to be a similar age and pretend to have similar interests, they build up a relationship with that child.
"We’ve also done workshops with theatre companies where they play out cases of CSE and online abuse, then the kids are allowed to ask the actors questions while they are in character.
"We’ve done events for parents around educating them with how to keep their children safe and we’ve got a multi-agency safeguarding hub at the council where any reports go.”
Supt Harding noted key points of advice for parents to keep their children safe.
He said: "The key points of advice to parents are making sure that they know what their children are doing, for example not letting the kids have their phones in their bedrooms when they’re meant to be asleep and supervising what they are doing.
"There’s also certain parental controls parents can have put on phones depending n the provider to stop them accessing certain websites.
"Lots of phones which use iCloud can be looked at remotely by parents.
"But we do advise parents to be open with their children and to have computers in the more communal areas of the house.
"People have got to be aware that nothing on a phone disappears, anything can be saved and then sent on.
"When people have boyfriends and girlfriends they need to be able to talk to their parents and parents should be aware of what they are doing.
"The key bit for parents is just noticing a change in their behaviour, the schools are very switched on looking for signs.
"We are also looking to work with sports clubs, we’re linked in with the FA and other professional bodies to make sure their policies are appropriate.”
Supt Harding said that parents can get more information from schools.
He added: "If parents have concerns often the best place to approach is the school, they have material about how to keep children safe online.
"The key thing to say to children is to go and speak to an adult that they trust, going to the police isn’t the only way of reporting something.
"I understand that for a child to ring the police or come to the station it might be intimidating.”