Friday, August 13, 2010

Cleveland police officers get training on human trafficking

by Rachel Dissell, Plain Dealer on August 10th

Cleveland police training instructor George Kwan wants officers to look for signs of human trafficking in the situations they encounter everyday.

Kwan implored the patrol officers and detectives, who were sitting through a new training program Tuesday, to keep their eyes open for what he called shoppers and smugglers.

The shoppers, he said, target a specific type of young girls, enticing and persuading them to leave for a better life -- before entrapping them in the sex trade.

The smugglers deal mainly in non-English speaking people, forced to work low or no wage jobs. They may be the ones that refill your soda at the buffet restaurant, he said.

Human traffickers profit by forcing people -- usually at-risk youth or immigrants -- to work for them. They can be a part of worldwide networks or one-person local operations. It is basically the modern day equivalent of slavery, he explained.

The training was meant as an elementary primer on what constitutes human trafficking and who is most at risk -- not an in-depth session on how to investigate the crimes.

It comes on the heels of a statewide report released in February that pointed to Ohio's weak human trafficking laws, demand for cheap labor and proximity to the Canadian border make it ripe for illegal activity.

The introduction is especially important since, Kwan said, a new casino planned for downtown would undoubtedly fuel more drug, sex and fraud-related crimes.

He also said the high prevalence of vacant houses in the city, make easy squatting ground for daytime brothels.

However, Kwan warned the officers that they are limited in how they can respond to trafficking offenses because there is no specific law in Ohio that make human trafficking a crime -- only tougher penalties for people who commit other crimes, including kidnapping, abduction, compelling prostitution and child endangering.

Forty-two other states do have laws that allow them to bring charges with serious penalties against human traffickers.

"Ohio is open, open season for this type of trafficking," Kwan said.

The training was also attended by members of a committee overseeing implementation of a plan to improve Cleveland's repose to sex crimes and missing persons cases.

Kwan tried to bring the issue home for the officers by highlighting local cases of missing teens, Amanda Berry, Georgina "Gina" DeJesus and Ashley Summers. All of teens vanished from West Side neighborhoods in the past seven years. The fact that none of them have been found leaves open the possibility.

He held up a sheet of paper, dotted with rows of pictures of girls missing from the area to make his point.

What do they have in common?

"They are all attractive, they are all between the ages of 14 and 17 and they are all gone," he said. "Anyone think we have a shopper here?"

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