The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is seeking a federal grant to become one of several law enforcement agencies to participate in a task force to combat human trafficking.
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners gave its approval Monday for the sheriff’s office to apply for a $100,000 grant with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to be part of the 2015-2016 Carolinas Human Trafficking Task Force.
The grant would cover a three-year period, starting July 1. The task force budget includes $74,695 for overtime hours and benefits, $2,500 for vehicle rentals, hotels and training, $2,500 for a confidential informant and $20,000 for undercover and surveillance equipment, including cameras, recorders, computers and monitors.
The purpose of the grant “is to support the development and enhancement of a multi-disciplinary human trafficking task force that implements collaborative approaches to combat all forms of human trafficking–sex trafficking and labor trafficking–within the United States.”
According to New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office Detective W.L. Campbell, the grant is a very competitive federal grant with many law enforcement agencies across the country submitting applications.
If New Hanover is selected, one detective from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office would be assigned to the task force, along with other detectives in from participating agencies.
Oher participating agencies include the Wilmington Police Department, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Raleigh Police Department, Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Police Department, Greensboro Police Department, The Dream Center and the Fayetteville Police Department, which would serve as the lead agency agency.
“It’s going to free up some resources…to get overtime and to put some proactive operations together to take a proactive instead of a reactive approach,” Campbell said. “We want to be in the front end of identifying victims before it’s too late.”
Campbell, who has been investigating human trafficking cases in the county for about two years, said recent training sessions have helped law enforcement with human trafficking cases to better identify victims of human trafficking.
In April 2013, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation to strengthen the laws against human trafficking and involuntary servitude in the state. The law, which took effect in December 2013, increased penalties for traffickers and required “pimps” to register as sex offenders, while allowing for the victims to escape the cycle of prostitution or involuntary servitude.
The new law is “clear and concise” and helps law enforcement bring about charges, Campbell said.
“Here, it’s a lot of sex trafficking. There are definitely a lot more cases. Officers are being trained, nurses, school resource officers, advocates…people are starting to see it, realize what it is and picking up the phone and saying something,” Campbell said.
Since the establishment of anti-human trafficking task forces across the country in 2004, law enforcement has identified 3,336 potential human trafficking victims in the United States and established nearly 400 T-visa (a visa offered to victims of human trafficking) applications for the victims, according to the BJA website.
The BJA has trained 85,685 law enforcement officers and has 13 anti-human trafficking task forces currently in operation.
Christina Haley is a crime reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6337 or Christina.firstname.lastname@example.org.