BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is working to address human and labor trafficking, but it’s not easy.
That’s why they’ve partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to get the training they need.
“Jefferson County is a magnet for human trafficking - both sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” said Homeland Security Lead Agent Doug Gilmer.
Gilmer said the part of the problem is fighting an industry that’s worth millions.
“We estimate the commercial sex industry, which would include a lot of trafficking victims in the Birmingham metro area, is about $110 million a year industry,” he said.
Through the training, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies are better equipped to handle these cases through patrol and investigations.
“The training we received will help us spot these kids, whether they are spotted by tattoos or body language. We want to make sure that we can spot them and get them out of the situations sooner and get them back to their parents to a safe place,” said Sheriff Mark Pettway.
He found out just how serious the problem was in Jefferson County two weeks on the job.
“We were able to save a young lady who was involved in a human trafficking ring. We worked together with the Homeland Security and we were able to get her out of there, rescue her and take her to a safe place. We want to make sure that we are understanding and know how to spot someone that is trapped in human trafficking,” Pettway said.
Each deputy received 64 hours of training that focused on identifying who the traffickers and victims are.
“If you see something that you think might be a sign or an indicator of human trafficking maybe take the next step look a little bit deeper. And that domestic violence call or that noise complaint located at a hotel off the interstate may not be just a noise complaint or a domestic violence call. It may be a human trafficking situation,” he said.
Gilmer said the training has already started to pay off .
“Since we started doing this training we’re probably getting calls from deputies or supervisors two or three times a week. Now, they’re saying we think we’ve seen something that may be in sex trafficking or labor trafficking. So, people are picking up on it and that’s what is really all about, education and getting the information out there so, people can recognize those signs and react appropriately.”