Combatting Human Trafficking Through Early Victim Identification, Disruption of Criminal Networks

In November, I attended the first Together Let’s Stop Traffick Summit in Ottawa, Canada where I was able to gain a better understanding of human trafficking and what is being done to combat this growing problem. Organizers and speakers shared a vision of a global Human Trafficking Fusion Center. This is a bold, labor-intensive mission that is well worth the time and effort required.

During the summit, I discovered that, even after 23 years as a Michigan State Trooper and fusion center commander, I had a lot to learn about the intricacies and extent of the global threat of human trafficking. Victims can be any ethnicity, race, sex or age — and the reality is all of us have probably been exposed to a victim and never realized it.

A successful global human trafficking fusion center will help law enforcement identify victims earlier, intervene in the process and disrupt the networks and activities that perpetuate human trafficking on a global scale. But this will require massive amounts of data and the technologies to support it, which is actually the easy part. The difficult part will be bringing multiple nations together to reach an agreement on the sharing of information across borders. In my law enforcement career, these information sharing agreements always seemed to take the longest amount of time, and are the most difficult to negotiate.

Following are a few ideas and suggestions I feel will benefit law enforcement as they begin to investigate human trafficking, as it is time to accept we may not be the experts on this particular crime.

First, I want to discuss ways to enhance the identification and prosecution of the traffickers and organized criminal groups that are profiting from this heinous activity.

Second, I’ll cover ways to identify and intercept victims of human trafficking before they are forced into slavery through force, coercion, fraud, deception or threats of physical harm. Once identified, they can be provided protection and other services to help them live a better life that is safe and secure. They can also assist in the identification and prosecution of traffickers.

So, what can law enforcement do to help disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises that are perpetrating these activities?

Build relationships with NGOs

There are a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working diligently to identify and support victims, as well as working with law enforcement to support criminal investigations.  NGOs provide an exceptional service to victims and superior education to the public on what to look for and the impact that human trafficking has on a community.

NGOs also collect extensive information from victims about methods of operation and the names of their tormentors. This information is critical in uncovering criminal networks as well individual operators, yet law enforcement rarely has access to this data. It is imperative that law enforcement work with and build relationships with private sector organizations to improve their investigative capabilities, while providing for the safety and security of human trafficking victims.

Improve officer training

It may take months and sometimes years before a victim is ready to speak with a police officer to tell their story. The FBI offers many resources to law enforcement to help them spot possible indicators that a person is a victim of human trafficking, or that a location, individual or business is engaged in trafficking. But beyond that, law enforcement officers need to be trained in how to handle the victims and the associated psychological trauma. How can we get them to feel safe, but also provide information that can lead to the arrest of their tormentors? It is a delicate balancing act that requires training, which is always the key to success.

Data analytics supports proactive interventions, powers investigations
Analytics technology can help identify victims before they get too deep into a risky position that puts them in danger of being trafficked. Analyzing data associated with common behaviors of traffickers and victims can prevent this criminal activity and assist victims in escaping this lifestyle that has been forced upon them. It can also provide law enforcement with credible leads to identify the trafficker and criminal organizations responsible.

In today’s world, the key to identifying and having an impact on human trafficking is not much different than that which is needed for other types of criminal investigations. It is a reactive process that, while resulting in millions of crimes solved, it is at a very high cost to the investigating agency, prosecutorial and judicial process, the community, and, more importantly for the victims. These costs are not always financial in nature; the personal cost can be high.

To reduce the impact of human trafficking, law enforcement has to have a more proactive, preventative approach with the ultimate goal of intervening in the recruitment process, disrupting the profits of the criminal enterprise and improving the conviction rates of traffickers and ensuring help for the victims.
A global fusion center with a strict focus on collecting and disseminating human trafficking information will require powerful technology to be successful.

Effective investigations will require us to tear down the silos of data and provide law enforcement from around the world access to this information. The program’s success will hinge on the ability to access and use the data for statistical, geospatial and intelligence analysis to identify traffickers, potential victims and to measure the success of programs designed to assist victims.

Collecting the intelligence

Agencies require a good intelligence collection program to ensure as much information as possible is collected, recorded in a single location and managed properly according to the statutes and regulations in their particular jurisdiction.

In the United States, the system should be 28 CFR Part 23 compliant as mandated by federal regulations for thehandling of criminal intelligence information. A good intelligence system must also have the ability to link disparate databases, a fully integrated enterprise search capability, geospatial analysis and strong reporting capabilities. In the hands of well-trained investigators using such a system, human traffickers, their methods and the flows of trafficking victims can be revealed. Information, analysis and availability is the key to success.

The promise of social media

Social media analytics can monitor social media sites, blogs and websites and alert a criminal justice investigative agency that there may be recruitment taking place. This capability gives law enforcement the earliest opportunity to intervene, but at the same time is the most difficult point in the recruitment process to identify.

Social media can also look for blog or social media content that includes keywords that may be indicators of traffickers’ actions or the boasting of their results, which can trigger alerts to the proper authorities. Social media analytics should not only spot possible threats, but be able to analyze and determine sentiment, identify the leaders of particular groups or organizations and have a geospatial capability.

The use of social media by law enforcement is always a touchy subject and is an area where privacy and free speech is always a concern. The reality is that in the United States and many other countries, the only sites that social media analytics can access are those that are open and viewable to the public. To access a secure site, investigators must follow proper procedures to ensure the constitutional rights of suspected trafficker are not violated.

If the international community is to achieve long-term success in combating human trafficking, there needs to be reliable information about the offenders, victims and global trafficking patterns to develop a better picture of trafficking on a global and regional basis. We need to understand the extent of the problem and then identify strategies to combat the trafficker before they are able to exploit their victims.

Early identification, intervention and disruption of human trafficking activities is the key to reducing and eliminating human trafficking.

The following links provide information concerning human trafficking and the indicators that human trafficking that may be occurring in and around your community. Education and understanding of the problem by the public can help reduce the threat and identify and rescue victims.

DHS Blue Campaign to combat human traffickinghttp://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/about-blue-campaign

Together Let’s Stop Traffichttp://www.togetherletsstoptraffick.org/

Indicators of possible human traffickinghttp://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/january/trafficking_012012/trafficking_012012

Dale Peet is a 23-year veteran of the Michigan State Police and the retired commander of the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, Michigan’s largest and primary fusion center for homeland security. He now serves as a principal law enforcement consultant at SAS.

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