Modern-Day Slavery: Community Policing has a Blueprint for “Walking the Talk”

hand with barcode on itHuman trafficking and modern-day slavery has the increasing concern and attention of the global community. With citizens demanding action and communities needing help, law enforcement’s principles of community policing offer a blueprint.

According to the United Nations, more than 25 million people are involved in sex- or labor-trafficking, and that’s a conservative estimate. Principally expressed as coerced-sex and labor, and often operating as organized criminal activity, human trafficking is a $32-billion industry, second only to drug trafficking. Let me emphasize: 25 million people are living in slavery.i

It isn’t just a problem in Africa or Asia—the Department of Justice estimates 14,000 to 17,000 people in the United States are involved in the labor or sex trade.ii Nearly every community feels the effects, and the problem requires a strategy to break the cycle and bring to justice those trading in human flesh.

Human trafficking is a critical community issue that has become the abolitionist movement of the 21st Century. It is time for everyone to move beyond declarations. Community policing offers an established, effective approach to “walk the talk,” with partnerships, through organizational change and with strategic problem solving.

What You Can Do
  1. Gather information in your community: What is the nature of the problem? Local data is a powerful tool. Design your action plan and training around the problem in your community.
  2. Create a resource directory that includes international, national, state, and local organizations focused on human trafficking—a simple web search will produce a number of links. To start with, refer to the Polaris Project for state-by-state resources.
  3. Asset-map your community: What skill-sets and resources can you mobilize locally to stop human trafficking?
  4. Identify existing task force efforts in your state and local community. If none exist, organize a working group or task force that would include federal, state, and local law enforcement. Involve probation, parole, and relevant NGOs. Look at the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force as a model approach.
  5. Train all law enforcement personnel and raise awareness about the issue. As appropriate, dedicate specific law enforcement staff—for example, gang units or those working with victims of crime.
  6. Conduct information workshops for local policymakers and agency leaders.
  7. Meet with local human-service organizations to understand the reach and scope of problems for families, schools, and the broader community.
  8. To avoid duplication, ask who in your community is already working in this space. Then, create a partnership whenever possible.
  9. Volunteer to serve on local task forces, coalitions, and other organizations working in this area.
  10. Promote education and training from law enforcement and community-based organizations to better inform yourself and your organization of trafficking’s complexities. You may want to host these training sessions.
  11. Don’t forget faith-based organizations. They are already heavily involved in providing intervention and treatment, and they can provide strong support systems for survivors.
  12. Connect with organizations like the Polaris Project. There are many, and they are great resources for training and materials. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
  13. Educate local organizations about the needs of victims/survivors and how you, as a community, can best intervene or assist. DO NO HARM!
  14. Create a safe haven for victims who have been exploited or for laborers who are coerced to work in factories or fields. A safe haven must be a judgment-free zone, and you must be advocates for survivor restoration to health, family, and community. A safe haven should include staff or volunteers with experience in post-traumatic stress or crisis-counseling. Domestic violence shelters should be staffed by individuals with experience in crisis-counseling. Use faith organizations (their facilities and community centers) as safe zones to report and access rescue and restoration resources.
  15. Facilitate reunification (only when it is safe to do so) with family and friends of survivors. Use community-based organizations to assist in this process.
  16. Advocate for an employment database to help survivors find meaningful employment and build a journey toward independence.
  17. Understand the individual victims and survivors with whom you are working. Use an informal survey process to identify family history, employment, and education backgrounds—get to know them!
  18. Reach out to local educational institutions, such as community colleges, vocational schools, public-school systems, and specialized programs for employment training.
  19. You can advocate for rescue, but you must also become a resource for individuals who have been emancipated.
  20. Think big, but act small. Small interventions like providing shelter, clothing, food, and education all happen locally. Law enforcement can be the champion for these services and create a bridge between prevention and enforcement.
  21. If none exist, create visibility around these issues by using billboards and other media that advertise that your neighborhood is a safe zone, free of human trafficking. Let perpetrators and the community know you have ZERO tolerance for trafficking.
  22. If none exist, create a local hotline to report trafficking of any kind or use the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-3737-888).
  23. Implied in all of the above is a need to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with public officials and other organizations working to end human trafficking. Step out from individual silos and isolated action to connect with others.
  24. Take informed action that can be measured, and don’t do this work alone! Work with people who have knowledge and expertise. Working in isolation can do more damage than good.
  25. Organize a community summit, bringing together key players and leadership to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat sex- and labor-trafficking in your community.

Don’t be intimidated by the scope of the problem. Every suggestion is a concrete activity that you, your agency, and organization can do—as you are, from where you are, with your unique and identified skills, assets, and resources. Review what you are doing and change organizationally as appropriate. Organize and mobilize for action. And, finally, seize the opportunity to lead and demonstrate that law enforcement is ready to collaborate, intervene, and restore!

James E. Copple

i United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. “Fact Sheet Human Trafficking at UNODC.” Web. April 14, 2014.
ii U.S. Department of Justice. 2004. Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Fiscal Year 2003. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.

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