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January 2021 | Volume 14 | Issue 1

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), through strategic partnerships, prepares the federal law enforcement community to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.

FLETC instructors provide training not only to the federal law enforcement community but also to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers and agents. Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT) is one of those trainings.

Police Officer 2 Jeffrey Winters“FLETC works closely with components of the Department of Homeland Security, including the Office of Partnership and Engagement and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), to deliver and increase awareness about the Human Trafficking Awareness Training,” said FLETC Deputy Director William Fallon. “We also rely on our federal participating organizations to help spread the word about this opportunity to law enforcement nationwide.”

Congress has also engaged with FLETC on this training issue. “Combating human trafficking has become an important issue in Congress over the past decade,” said FLETC Senior Legislative Affairs Advisor Anthony Acocella. “Members of Congress and their staffs have strong working relationships with law enforcement throughout their states and districts, which helps to increase awareness about FLETC’s efforts. We have briefed more than 100 offices over the past few years about FLETC’s commitment to combatting human trafficking, and each briefing provides us with an opportunity to discuss the importance of making sure frontline law enforcement nationwide have the tools and knowledge they need to help stop this crime in their communities.”

While the training is not new, the delivery method is. “We had two scheduled HTAT trainings in March [2020] for Washington state, but those were cancelled because of COVID,” said Fallon.

FLETC normally delivers export training on a regular basis throughout the country, but travel restrictions and an unknown environment allowed the agency to look at creative and alternate training options. The agency’s training pause at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led leaders and instructors to explore and implement some of those alternate ways to deliver training.

“We looked at the COVID challenge as an opportunity for us to build our capabilities virtually,” said Fallon. “We already had the e-FLETC platform up and running, and HTAT was a perfect fit for us to transition to a virtual platform. First, we could maximize the capabilities of e-FLETC; and second, we could increase the number of people who could attend the training.”

Police Officer Damien Curtis Since going virtual, FLETC has trained nearly 900 law enforcement officers and agents on the topic, with many of those training classes comprising more than 100 students—which would be difficult to replicate in an in-person training session.

The training curriculum is divided into two sections. The first half is instructor-led and focuses on definitions, indicators, and reporting protocols. The second half features a panel of subject matter experts who are local to the particular geographic region. “The morning session with the indicators was no problem to convert virtually,” said Fallon. “In fact, I think it has enhanced the program. In the second part of the program, the panel, we were able to maximize the e-FLETC platform by allowing these subject matter experts to appear virtually.”

The morning session is set up like a classroom environment with instructors leading the discussions and providing videos and training aids. In coordination with the Blue Campaign, FLETC identified a survivor story to show first-hand the impact of human trafficking. For many involved in the training, it can provide moments of reflection.

“When I listen to the indicators, I realize in my 28 years in the U.S. Marshals Service, I’m sure I came across human trafficking,” said Fallon. “Especially considering the mission of the Marshals Service is to arrest fugitives and violent offenders. So we’re out in the field and, no doubt in my mind, I came across it at one point or another in my career and didn’t recognize it.”

“Similar moments happen at every one of these trainings,” echoed FLETC Assistant Director Darren Cruzan, National Capital Region. “I wish I had been given these tools during my time as a uniformed officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I would have been better prepared to recognize possible signs of human trafficking.”

Moving to the second part of the session, the panel consists of federal, state, and local human trafficking subject matter experts, including representatives from HSI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] Human Trafficking Task Force, state and local prosecutors, and nongovernmental organizations. For members of the panel, the preparation starts well before the actual training day.

Police Officer Jamie Madson “Rich [Simons, regional coordinator for the state, local, and tribal division at FLETC] identifies the panel members who will participate in the training,” said Law Enforcement Instructor Hector Bencomo. “I’ll then introduce myself and give the panel members access to our virtual classroom so they can get in and get comfortable with what is being asked of them.”

“From there, I receive a biography from each panelist and make sure to have their contact information so we can include it on the training site on the actual training day,” added Bencomo. “Then we work to coordinate dates and times with the panel and also set up a practice session to get them on screen and go through it together.”

“The Human Trafficking Task Forces are a very crucial resource in each state for combating and educating about human trafficking,” added Simons. “Most task forces are overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and comprise the same subject matter experts we use for our panel discussion. For this reason, FLETC has cultivated the relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and their Department of Justice Law Enforcement Coordinators nationwide to help each other’s strategic missions. They have been very willing to assist FLETC with identification of subject matter experts.”

Police Officer 2 Jeffrey WintersDuring the panel discussion, students can ask questions in the virtual chat, which instructors direct to the panel members. While each virtual training has a similar lineup of panel members, the names and faces are all different—for a very good reason. “Each panel is unique in that we set up a panel of subject matter experts from the area for which the training is being offered,” said Simons. “For example, when we deliver the training to Alaska, we have a panel of subject matter experts from Alaska. Each panel consists of subject matter experts from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a state prosecutor who prosecutes human trafficking cases, local Human Trafficking Task Force Officers, HSI Special Agents, and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) victim service providers.”

“Just having those local resources and local experts be able to speak about what they have on their task force, in their community, is important,” added Fallon. “Knowing who these experts are and who to reach out to, not just for the investigative side but also for the victims, is what makes our program so successful.”

Having local victim service providers available adds another layer of training for law enforcement officers and agents to prepare them for when they encounter these cases. “The victims with whom the officers on the street are interacting often have situations that are more complicated than what the officer is prepared for,” said Cruzan. “This is where having good relationships with their local NGO is so critically important. NGOs can provide shelter, counseling, meals, child care, and other important services.”

“Also, often victims are initially untrusting of law enforcement,” added Cruzan. “NGOs can facilitate that relationship and help build trust.”

Jason Lefevre
Public Affairs Specialist
Photos courtesy of FLETC

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