TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - A Bay Area nonprofit is helping law enforcement officers look beyond a simple traffic stop or domestic violence call to spot the signs of human trafficking.
Officers don’t have to be in a special trafficking unit to learn what to look for to spot a potential victim using a new, free online certification program through U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking. It covers human trafficking in the forms of labor, sex, cyber, forced marriage and servitude. It was created to be accessible for all law enforcement officers.
“It can be shown during their weekly meeting where they're getting updated on everything that's going on in their community that they need to be focusing on. So they can use it within those meetings or they can do it in their patrol cars, on the road, in their offices,” said Stephanie Costolo, the regional manager of the trafficking free program a USIAHT.
Since Florida is a hotspot for human trafficking, several state agencies are taking those extra steps, including the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. The crime is complex to identify for everyone, and sex trafficking survivor Kim Squires made it her life’s mission to help mentor other victims.
“Millions of people walk by you every day every minute every year and do they know or do they care to know,” said Squires, who is a survivor mentor with the nonprofit organization More Too Life, Inc. “I know how to sensitive to their needs and what really need.”
Squires said the more officers who can spot signs earlier, the better. And victim advocacy groups believe training is important to identify and respond to human trafficking victims and perpetrators.
“That's why this training is so important for law enforcement to give them those extra skills, those extra steps, those extra identifiers,” said Costolo.
As a survivor herself, Squires said officers who know how to talk to victims can give them resources to help.
“You don’t know the type of triggers that they may have. So when you're aware, when you're alerted to how to handle the situation then it will help you to become approachable,” said Squires.
The program is in five parts and gives officers a quiz at the end of each section on what they learned. Over 1,200 officers have participated in the training beyond Pasco County, including Seminole County, Hendry County and Longwood, Fla.