What happens when police find a victim of human trafficking during a middle-of-the-night raid?
Right now, it’s a scramble to find basic resources: overnight shelter, food and clothes.
But a new county task force aims to create a communitywide response protocol to complement coordinated police work already being done.
The Frederick County Council passed a resolution this month establishing a fact-finding task force with the goal of increasing identification of human trafficking victims in Frederick County and creating a provider network for comprehensive services to victims.
The measure was introduced by Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D).
“On the enforcement front, we are really starting to be able to identify some of these criminals, and that’s a really wonderful thing. It’s been difficult, however, for service providers and responders to then figure out how to provide services for the victims,” Fitzwater said.
Fitzwater said it’s challenging to meet the needs of trafficking victims because they are reluctant to come forward in the first place.
“We want to be sure we have the best supportive services possible,” she said.
Frederick Police Chief Ed Hargis said the task force could help on two fronts: by educating the community about signs of trafficking and coordinating the non-police response, so officers could concentrate on investigations.
He hopes officers could, in the future, call one number after a midnight raid to set in motion a coordinated service response.
Sgt. Andrew Alcorn underscored that trafficking crimes are being committed in the county, so the task force’s recommendations would be put to work.
He told the council of two recent city cases when police were pressed to find services for trafficking victims.
“I’m strongly in favor of this task force. Mainly because at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, it takes significant resources to try to help these victims,” Alcorn said.
However, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he thought the task force’s work might be duplicative.
“I’m always leery when the local government gets involved in something that really is not a local government issue. This is a national, regional issue and law enforcement at all levels are working on it. There are already state task forces, federal task forces,” Jenkins said.
He said his main concern is that he doesn’t want the task force’s work to veer into areas already being addressed.
“I don’t want to see it become a recommendation or a mandate for law enforcement to do certain things or [for the task force to] make recommendations that are unrealistic,” he said.
He also underscored recent criminal trafficking investigations, including an operation that shut down two massage parlors in the county.
“I think law enforcement is doing a lot of good things out there,” Jenkins said.
Fitzwater said she understood the sheriff’s concerns and thinks the task force will stick to a relatively narrow focus.
The measure passed the council 5-2. Councilmen Billy Shreve (R) and Kirby Delauter (R) said they shared some of the sheriff’s concerns about the group’s proposed work.
The resolution outlines members of the task force, including representatives from the sheriff’s office and city police, the Frederick County Human Relations Commission, the Frederick County Commission for Women and Frederick Memorial Hospital.
Frederick County joins others, including Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties, in establishing local task forces.
The Frederick County group is expected to begin its work in January, with a final report expected in February 2018.