A specific online sexual crime team has been set up within Tayside Police to target predators as a new report reveals an increase in abuse, with children and young people “at particular risk”.
Part of its work will include responding to vigilante groups who target paedophiles.
Local police officers seconded to the team will follow up videos and information provided by the online child abuse activist groups (OCAGs), according to a new report.
The groups are best known for posing as children online and accosting alleged abusers, often live streaming videos of the confrontation.
However Tayside divisional commander, chief superintendent Andrew Todd, has discouraged the activity, encouraging people to report suspected abuse through official channels instead of taking matters into their own hands.
“We are all concerned about the safety of children online but the police are best placed to protect children, gather evidence and detect crime,” he said.
“Police Scotland will always respond to information from members of the public that a child or young person may be at risk of harm with a focus on identifying and mitigating any risk posed.
“Members of the public do not have the training, knowledge or mechanisms with partners to protect children and capture evidence to the standard required.
“If you suspect someone may be abusing children online or offline then please contact the police on 999 if you think there is immediate risk of harm, or 101.”
His comments come ahead of a report to be presented to Dundee City Council’s community safety and public protection committee on Monday.
Mr Todd said: “The policing division has created an online sexual crime team who provide expertise and deal with intelligence packages received about subjects who access indecent images of children along with responding to OCAG groups, who have targeted subjects in Tayside and live streamed visits online.
“Officers are seconded to this team from local policing areas to ensure knowledge is returned to local policing.”
The report did not include figures, but said there has been an increase in online sexual crimes internationally, nationally and in Tayside.
“It is clear that rising recorded crime is due to increases in cyber enabled offending, and at particular risk are children and young people,” it added.
A number of paedophile hunting groups have carried out “stings” in Tayside and Fife.
A group of four are awaiting sentencing for breach of the peace charges after they arrived on a Forfar street masked and hooded, waving banners and shouting, swearing and making offensive remarks while broadcasting their behaviour live on social media.
The incident, carried out as part of the Wolf Pack Hunters UK group, prompted a major police response.
Last year a Dundee sheriff ruled text message evidence gathered by the Keeping Kids Safe group was inadmissible in court after claims it was unlawfully obtained.
The messages had been sent to adults posing as children.
Sheriff Alastair Brown said the group, which had travelled to Dundee to confront a man they suspected of being a child abuser, had not acted in good faith and its actions had been “unlawful”.
However, the procurator fiscal launched a successful appeal against Sheriff Brown’s decision and the case was passed to another sheriff to be reheard.
Appeal judge Sheriff Norman McFadyen ruled the evidence should have been considered once the case reached trial, at which point it would be determined whether or not the text messages were admissible.