One of the primary ways police agencies serve and protect the community is by uncovering and investigating activity that suggests criminal behavior. Police traffic stops provide an ideal opportunity for law enforcement officers to observe and identify human trafficking crimes that may be taking place in their jurisdictions.
Given the highly effective role that police can play in stopping human trafficking, it is important law enforcement officials and prosecutors see this issue as a priority and devote resources and training to combatting it. Properly trained and equipped officers will be able to use routine traffic stops as a strategic tool for combating human trafficking.
Human Trafficking is a Growing Problem in the U.S.
Human trafficking is a national crisis that is on the rise. Many people don’t realize how prevalent human trafficking is in the United States. Although our government has established human trafficking laws, the number of investigated cases has grown significantly each year. According to Bureau of Justice statistics from 2022, the number of people referred to U.S. Attorneys for human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020, saw a 62% increase from 2011. The number of those prosecuted rose 84% during the same period.
Speed Enforcement Stops Provide an Opportunity to Identify Suspicious Behavior
Human trafficking crimes are often hiding in plain sight. Since human trafficking typically involves the transportation of victims, there is a great opportunity to catch perpetrators during routine traffic stops. Law enforcement officers throughout the country who stop drivers for speed violations are in a good position to spot human trafficking situations if officers know how to identify the signs.
The victim advocate organization, Innocents at Risk, suggests several warning signs that may indicate that someone is a victim of human trafficking. Some of these signs might be observable in vehicle occupants during a traffic stop:
- Appearing fearful or malnourished
- Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse
- Avoiding eye contact during social interaction
- Especially fearful of law enforcement
- Seeming to stick with scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
- Lacking official identification documents
- Looking destitute/lacking personal possessions
- Someone not allowing an individual to speak for themselves
Traffic Stops That Turned into Human Trafficking Arrests
Law enforcement traffic stops for speeding and other common offenses have already allowed well-trained officers to identify human trafficking crimes. Reports of traffic stops leading to such trafficking related arrests are seen throughout the news:
In 2019, Ohio State Highway Patrolman Mitch Ross, with the help of OSHP translator, rescued a 15 year-old missing girl from New Jersey from a 35 year-old man who sexually assaulted her, and was smuggling her to Chicago as part of a trafficking operation.
In 2021, two Idaho State troopers were recognized for saving a young boy after they stopped and apprehended a man who had an outstanding arrest. The driver claimed the boy was his son when in reality, the boy was a victim of labor human trafficking.
In 2019, a 15-year-old girl who had been abducted from Oregon was discovered to be a human trafficking victim. The 26-year-old man who was trafficking her had been reported for a hit-and-run where he damaged a sign and a tree.
Resources for Law Enforcement Efforts to End Human Trafficking
Blue Campaign is a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement, and others to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond. Aligned with the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking, Blue Campaign leverages partnerships with the private sector, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), law enforcement, and state/local authorities to maximize national public engagement in anti-human trafficking efforts.
As part of their series on critical issues in policing, the Police Executive Research Forum has published, “How Local Police Can Combat the Global Problem of Human Trafficking: Collaboration, Training, Support of Victims, and Technology Are Keys to Success.”
Kustom Signals is a leading provider of law enforcement speed enforcement and video solutions. Our team is here to support police departments and law agencies with equipment and resources that help them safely perform their duties.