Law enforcement gets training on stopping human trafficking

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Kylla Lanier, deputy director of Truckers Against Trafficking, speaks to law enforcement officers during training this week. (Courtesy of BSO)

Representatives from Truckers Against Trafficking trained more than two dozen area law enforcement officers from various agencies about human trafficking and how they can help victims and apprehend criminals.  

Kylla Lanier, deputy director, Truckers Against Trafficking, heads the training for law enforcement officers across the country, and she conducted a free, four-hour training session at the Viking Drive Substation in Bossier City Jan. 14.

“It’s more prevalent than people realize, between the labor trafficking – people who are enslaved around the world and in the U.S. – in nail salons, restaurants, hotels and motels, there’s a lot of trafficking taking place there,” Lanier said.  Other labor industries that are prone to human trafficking include magazine sales crews, traveling carnivals and fairs, maids and nannies, agricultural business, and construction, she said.

Kylla Lanier, deputy director of Truckers Against Trafficking, speaks to law enforcement officers during training this week. (Courtesy of BSO)

“On the side of sex trafficking, what we have just commonly seen as prostitution in the United States, almost all of it is sexual exploitation, so we have to look at that with a new lens,” Lanier emphasized.

It’s also a problem that is being taken quite seriously at the national level.

“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes on Earth,” said U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo. “Traffickers are robbing a staggering 24.9 million people of their freedom and basic human dignity—that’s roughly three times the population of New York City. We must band together and build momentum to defeat human trafficking. We must hold the perpetrators of this heinous crime accountable.  We must achieve justice for survivors as they rebuild their lives. We must reinvigorate our shared commitment to extinguish human trafficking wherever it exists. There is no time to waste.”

That’s one of the reasons Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington worked with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana and other agencies to launch the Northwest Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force late last year.  One of its goals is to incorporate the victim-centered approach to prosecuting criminals.

Lanier emphasized that approach during the training she provided to officers with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office, FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Greenwood Police Department, La. Probation and Parole, Haughton Police Department, Centenary College Police Department, Bossier City Police Departments and Louisiana State Police.

Earl Campbell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Louisiana, is the coordinator for the NWLA Human Trafficking Task Force.

“There’s varying aspects of human trafficking,” Campbell noted.  “Not only does it occur in hotels, it occurs in truck stops, and in various different venues where people don’t think trafficking occurs.  It was very insightful to learn about trafficking that occurs at truck stops and also how to identify trafficking activity and also rescuing victims.”

Truckers for Trafficking is a non-profit organization that works with the transportation industry to recognize the signs of human trafficking through the normal course of their jobs and to call it in to law enforcement.  Lanier says they started with the trucking industry around the United States and now also work the bus industry and the energy sector, to really see this crime for what it is and to know what to do when they see it.  And law enforcement plays a critical role in that process.

“Anything we can do to help victims of human trafficking and arrest those who exploit others is our goal,” said Sheriff Whittington.  “Today’s training emphasizes that commitment, and we are thankful for the effort of Truckers Against Trafficking and our newly-developed task force.”

Maj. Shawn Phillips, supervisor Criminal Investigations Division, Bossier Sheriff’s Office, says this type of training will do a lot of good, especially the reinforcement of the victim-centered approach so they can use techniques when dealing with prostitutes to find out if they are trafficked and what their deputies and detectives can do to help the victims.  

“Human trafficking is a major deal everywhere,” Phillips said.  “You might not think it’s going on, but it’s going in places you wouldn’t think.”

Lanier said human trafficking comes down to the exploitation of those who are vulnerable.

“Where you have people that are vulnerable, you have traffickers there to exploit that vulnerability,” she said.

Lanier told the law enforcement officers they are difference makers when it comes to human trafficking.  

“They can make an extreme difference in a victim’s life by treating them as a victim instead of a criminal by talking to them and getting that information, to look beneath the surface,” she said. “Often times, trafficking victims do not look like a victim right off the bat.  But law enforcement can make a huge difference once they recognize this crime and feel equipped to deal with it appropriately.”

Law enforcement officers also heard from a human trafficking victim and the importance of recognizing that a lot of these victims are forced into trafficking against their will.

Lanier also has a message for the public about human trafficking.

“Learn about this crime,” she emphasized.  “There are amazing resources out there.  There are a ton of books written by survivors of both sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  Our State Department puts out the Trafficking in Persons report each year   (https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Trafficking-in-Persons-Report.pdf) that can be accessed online easily.”

She also encourages everyone to learn what is happening in your world, in your community, in your backyard.  By doing so, you can “learn how to protect your children and your loved ones,” Lanier said.  “Learn about it because the empowerment of the education, that goes so much further than anything else.  Learn about it so that you can protect your own.”

Realizing there are many victims of human trafficking who may not know where to turn, Maj. Phillips offers words of encouragement.

“We’re there to help you,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  We’re going to ask you if you need help.  Tell us if you need help.  We’ll help you.”