CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has introduced a draft best practices initiative to raise awareness about human trafficking within law enforcement communities across the state.
Recent changes in West Virginia law inspired the AG's office to assist in drafting standardized procedures to effectively respond to this emerging crime.
“Human trafficking is a crime that does not discriminate," Morrisey said in a statement. "Men, women and children of all ages can be victims. Equipping law enforcement officers with the necessary skills to identify victims and eradicate this growing criminal industry is a crucial step in helping West Virginia reach her full potential.”
Human trafficking is defined as commercial sex or labor that is induced by force, fraud or coercion. It is considered the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world today, second only to drug trafficking according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The first-of-its-kind initiative in West Virginia has garnered broad support from law enforcement agencies across the state including the Ceredo Police Department, Charleston Police Department, Kenova Police Department, White Hall Police Department, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office and Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers among others.
“(Attorney General Morrisey’s) intent on developing curriculum to aid in detection, investigation, prosecution and eradication of human trafficking throughout West Virginia will only make our state a safer and more diverse state to live and work,” wrote Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese.
Law enforcement officers say human trafficking poses a threat to the people of West Virginia, especially in light of the state’s serious drug epidemic. This provides an environment in which human trafficking can thrive given the need of opioid addicts to supply their habit without means of financial support.
“With the recent explosion of crimes related to heroin and other drugs, addicts are selling themselves and others to support their habit,” wrote Lt. M.A. McCray, chief of detectives for the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office. “Nothing goes against the American way of life more than the loss of liberty through slavery.”
The plan from the AG's office provides recommendations to law enforcement officers to better identify and assist those who may be victims of human trafficking.
“This document and the steps it outlines are a giant first step in combating this growing crime in our state,” wrote White Hall Police Chief Geno Guerrieri.
Some recommended practices include free anti-human trafficking training courses for law enforcement officers, promoting the use of field screening questionnaires when interacting with potential victims and maintaining up to date statistics on confirmed cases so data may be used to identify trends and guide enforcement efforts.
“Training is key in the fight against any crime,” wrote Kenova Police Chief Bob Sullivan. “I wanted to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for providing free law enforcement training to my officers and others in the area to assist in a coordinated effort to eradicate human trafficking.”