Cops focus on human trafficking


Staff Writer

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Padlocked doors, bars on windows and excessive video surveillance could be signs a residential home is involved in human trafficking.

Since Rocky Mount police can't be everywhere, they're training certain city employees to look for such indicators.

Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking when it comes to the billions of dollars gained illegally across the globe. Human trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers and undue fear of law enforcement.

That's why local police are using employees of the city's Energy Resources Department to be their eyes. They're being trained to spot things that are out of place.

“While they're out and about in neighborhoods doing their regular jobs, we want them to notice things that are out of place,” said Sgt. Brad Summerlin, spokesman for the Rocky Mount Police Department.

Police are training the workers to spot things like windows that are covered, sheds with an excessive number of locks and a house using electricity, but no one ever appears at home.

A combination of large agricultural land, sprawling military communities, numerous major highways and two international seaports make Eastern North Carolina a prime location for human trafficking. Year after year, North Carolina hovers among the top 10 states with a human trafficking problem, according to recent research.

There's local empirical evidence as well. Philtece Joel Harrison, 37, of Sharpsburg, was arrested last year after two women who claimed to be victims of human trafficking were found by police to be in her vehicle. Harrison is awaiting trial on charges including human trafficking of an adult victim, promoting prostitution and profits prior and sexual servitude of an adult victim.

Authorities said recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and helping save lives. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:

■ Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?

■ Has a child stopped attending school?

■ Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?

■ Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?

■ Is the person disoriented or confused or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?

■ Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

■ Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?

■ Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?

■ Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, such as where they go or who they talk to?

■ Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?

■ Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?

■ Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

■ Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.