Shelby County Law Enforcement Prepares to Combat Human Trafficking During World Games – Shelby County Reporter

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Personal editor

The 2022 World Games will bring together 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries over an 11-day period in Birmingham. With the influx of people from all over the world, law enforcement in Shelby and Jefferson counties are preparing for another wave: human trafficking.

Over the years, I-20 has been referred to by law enforcement as a “sex-trafficking superhighway” because the majority of human trafficking takes place in the South, with the highway traversing several US states. United States.

Armed with this knowledge, law enforcement has strengthened officer training and opened lines of communication between different resources such as Blanket Fort Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating child sex trafficking, hotel managers and nearby law enforcement.

sergeant. Brad Jordan of the Pelham Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division said Pelham Police and other law enforcement agencies in the metro area benefit from a mutually beneficial partnership with partners advocacy groups such as Blanket Fort Hope.

“These organizations play a vital role in our ability to break the cycle of trafficking by providing resources such as housing, drug treatment and education,” he said.

According to Josh Bean, a representative of the World Games Public Relations team, the 2022 World Games is partnering with the US Department of Homeland Security, City of Birmingham, Birmingham Junior League and others to draw more attention to human health issues. traffic.

“The World Games requires all of its 3,300 volunteers to complete Junior League-facilitated human trafficking training,” Bean said. “Through this training, our community will have more people than ever before able to identify and stop human trafficking. It’s another example of how we’re using the 2022 World Games to build a stronger community that extends beyond the competition itself.

Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego said the sheriff’s office plans to support the Hoover Police Department and the Pelham Police Department in their World Games events, but the problem of human trafficking is a year-round endemic that the sheriff’s office always has their eyes on.

“We still have our eyes peeled, and it appears that in Shelby County, the hotels on the freeway were the primary drivers of such behavior,” he said. “We checked with Hoover and the FBI and DHS on different details. We are aware of this and have a relationship with hotel managers and in fact organized training for them about a year ago. We worked very well with them, they give us the advice we need to put us legally in a position to act.

Jordan said all law enforcement officers receive instructions to recognize and diagnose possible signs of human trafficking. If a trafficking situation is suspected, officers will notify an investigator trained in these investigative specifics and/or the FBI’s Human Trafficking Task Force. When an investigation is opened, Victim Services staff are advised to help with housing, medical care, counseling and substance abuse treatment.

At the unveiling of the ownership of the Blanket Fort Hope Therapeutic Restoration Home for Trafficking Survivors on Thursday, June 9, State Attorney General Steve Marshall said World Games has started a progressive conversation about how trafficking is handled in the state.

“In a way, one of the benefits of the World Games was all the discussions we had about human trafficking,” Marshall said. “We were able to bring together a lot of groups, not just law enforcement, and I think we’re going to get something tangible out of it. There has been a lot of planning around what we need to do on the law enforcement side. »

Jordan said red flags related to a trafficking situation include: Demonstrating a lack of freedom such as no phone, restricted movement and lack of identification; signs of dependence, malnutrition or abuse (if accompanied, consider whether the other person has the same signs); if a conversation with the individual seems stilted, rehearsed, or if the individual defers to another person for an answer.

If someone suspects they have encountered a trafficking situation, Jordan and Samaniego say the best thing the person can do is alert the authorities so they can deal with it.

Jordan said victims of trafficking often do not see themselves as victims and will fight any help from an outside party.

“Victimization does not happen overnight, and these trafficked persons are brainwashed to accept and may respond to outside interference, whether from well-meaning citizens or law enforcement, with behavior ranging from apathy to outright hostility,” he said. “With this in mind, it is always best for citizens to observe and document (location, time and details) their suspicions if they believe they have come across a trafficking situation.”

Jordan encouraged that if anyone should see a situation that arouses their suspicions to contact their local police department, when safe to do so, and/or the National Human Trafficking Hotline ( 888-373-7888) to provide any comments and concerns they may have.

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