Philly Law Enforcement Officials Create Human-Trafficking Task Force

There were at least 116 trafficking cases reported in Pa. last year. Officials believe the real number is much higher.
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Courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Law enforcement officials in Philadelphia have created a human-trafficking task force, thanks to a $1.3 million federal grant. 

Philadelphia police will work alongside officials from the city’s District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to more actively seek victims and perpetrators of human trafficking in the Philly area.

The group also includes officials from Salvation Army, which, through the organization’s Philadelphia Social Service Ministries and by helping to staff and house the Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, has actively led the city’s fight against human trafficking since 2009.

“We’ve been out on the streets, we’ve been working for some time now,” Lt. Col. Stephen Banfield, Salvation Army’s Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware divisional commander, said at a press conference yesterday, according to NewsWorks. “But we see that it is a larger problem than just what the Salvation Army can handle, and there’s more ramifications to this than just our bringing [victims] into a safe place and getting them to feel warm, clean, etc.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 116 human trafficking cases were reported in Pennsylvania in 2016. About 84 of those cases related to sex trafficking, and 95 of them involved women. The organization identified the citizenship of 52 victims involved in the cases and found that almost half of those identified were foreigners.

Officials said many victims of human trafficking are undocumented immigrants who are afraid to come forward to law enforcement, making it difficult to know exactly how rampant the issue is in Philadelphia.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross said human-trafficking has “flown beneath the radar” in local law enforcement.

“The big issue here is to detect it,” James Carpenter, head of the family violence and sexual assault unit in the Philadelphia D.A.’s office, said yesterday, according to the Inquirer. “We know it’s out there, and we’re tired of just stumbling upon it.”

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