More than 120 suspected child sex offenders have been handed police warning notices in the past two years.
Official police figures show 128 section two ‘abduction notices’ were handed to people suspected of trying to groom children, warning them to stop whatever conduct has caused police concern.
The notices are used where a person’s behaviour is believed to pose a significant risk, such as where teenagers are found with alcohol or cigarettes in cars with older men, but where evidence falls short of officers being able to arrest or charge them.
But the notices can also be used to help prosecute offenders at a later date if they do not stop their conduct.
The figures come as the man leading Lancashire Police’s response to child sex offending said protecting vulnerable people is the force’s top priority.
And Det Supt Ian Critchley, of the force’s Public Protection Unit, revealed the internet is continuing to grow as a threat and is increasingly the source of child grooming offences.
However, police are also involved in offences involving lone child sex offenders and , less frequently, gangs or groups of offenders preying on children. He said: “All our officers are aware of the use of abduction notices. Where we cannot arrest we will use abduction notices to protect vulnerable people.
“They are valuable tools and help us in terms of reducing the vulnerability of young people who are potential victims of abuse.”
The figures show the majority of notices have been handed out in the east of the county, where a prosecution involving several people is due in court on March 19 as part of an operation codenamed Hawk.
But there have been 15 notices handed out in Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre in 2011 and 2012, a further 11 in Preston and 11 in Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire.
Det Supt Critchley added that the internet is a growing source of grooming and child sex offences.
“It does continue to increase and that is why we are committed to policing the internet. Part of that is key messages to young people, parents and carers about safe use of the internet,” he said.
However, he added that officers also came across lone offenders seeking to identify potential targets on the street and groups and gangs working together.
But he said: “As a constabulary we are absolutely focussed on protecting victims and bringing offenders to justice.
“There is a service that we can be proud of in Lancashire that will help and we want people to seek support.”
Anyone with concerns about child sex exploitation can call police on 101 and ask for the Public Protection Unit. In Preston, a special unit called Operation Deter exists to combat such crimes.