By Jessie Wagoner
Thursday, members of law enforcement, truckers and local industry leaders joined Truckers Against Trafficking and the Attorney General’s Office for a training focused on reducing the instances of human trafficking in Kansas. The event, held in McPherson, provided ongoing collaboration among the various agencies.
Those in attendance included representatives from local hotels and motels, transportation companies and truck stops. They were joined by members of several law enforcement agencies, as well as members of the Kansas Air National Guard.
McPherson Police Chief Mikel Golden says he attended a Truckers Against Trafficking event about five years ago. He went to the training, found it very valuable, and wanted to bring it back to McPherson for local law enforcement and industry partners. Golden explained what Thursday’s event focused on.
“What human trafficking is, how the pimps control the females and then you hear the female’s story on how they became involved in this world and what they had to do to get out of it,” Golden said. “It is very eye opening to know that our trucking industries, hotels and motels, gangs and the illegal crime of drugs are very intertwined with this activity.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says there are signs anyone can look for to possibly identify human trafficking. He says oftentimes, young women are with much older men without having a valid relationship.
“One of the early cases we did here in Kansas occurred in Oakley on I-70, a very rural community,” Schmidt said. “It was a 30 something-year-old male and a 17-year-old female with Minnesota tags driving west on I-70 and they were stopped by a trooper for a traffic infraction. The trooper, fortunately, was one of the first in the state to be trained.”
Schmidt says the trooper just felt like something wasn’t right and began asking basic questions -where are you going, how are you related? As the trooper investigated further, he found the man was a pimp and was selling the young girl. They were traveling between St. Louis and Denver.
“Fortunately, we had just upgraded our law to make transporting with the intent to traffic a separate state crime,” Schmidt said. “We convicted that guy. I think he got 12 plus years in the state penitentiary all because the law enforcement officer who engaged with that person for reasons unrelated to trafficking knew the types of signs to look for and investigated further as a result.”
The theory behind the Truckers Against Trafficking partnership is that on any given day, there are far more truckers on the road than there are law enforcement officers. Since 2018, Kansas has required every holder of a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to have training on human trafficking. More than 36,000 CDL holders in Kansas have been trained, as a result of the partnership.
“That’s more than 36,000 sets of eyeballs that are now in a position that if they encounter somebody like that trooper did, something out of the ordinary, they know what to do,” Schmidt said. “They obviously wouldn’t make an arrest, but they would make a call. They know what to see and what to do about it.”
Louie Greek, training specialist for Truckers Against Trafficking, says the training is impactful and truckers are key in recognizing human trafficking. He says the trucking industry has taken ownership and funds the training and events. The trucking industry is critical in the fight against human trafficking.
“So far, we have had over 2,700 calls into the National Human Trafficking Hotline just from truckers,” Greek said. “That involves an astounding 1,303 potential victims recovered just from truckers calls. That is only into the hotline, it doesn’t count calls made to local police or 911.”
Golden and Schmidt say that rural areas are often prime spots for human trafficking, as sometimes people think they can hide in the rural area.
“Even though we may not see it in McPherson, it is better to get the training so we are aware of what we are looking at Love’s, 24/7, our hotels and motels, so we can recognize it and get these victims help as soon as possible.
Golden says if you see something, say something. If you ever suspect human trafficking, he encourages citizens to make a report to local law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.