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Local Law Enforcement’s Role in Combating Human Trafficking

By Jarrod Sadulski, professor of criminal justice at American Military University

Human trafficking is not just an international issue. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 41 percent of sex trafficking cases and 20 percent of labor trafficking cases listed U.S. citizens as victims (Polaris Project, 2014).

Human trafficking is a growing crime that pervades our communities. In just the last six years, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has received more than 14,000 reports of human trafficking incidents (Polaris Project, 2014). This is a 259% increase in the calls that this organization received about human trafficking between 2008 and 2012.

Sadly, children are often the victims of human trafficking. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 American children under the age of 18 are engaged in the commercial sex trade (Allen, 2010).

What is Local Law Enforcement’s Role in Combating Human Trafficking?
Local law enforcement has an important role in identifying human trafficking victims. Resources to help officers identify potential trafficked people can be found at the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations.

Examples of a trafficked person can include someone who (Department of Homeland Security, 2014):

  • Was recruited for one purpose and was forced to engage in another job
  • Suffers from garnished wages by another person
  • Has been coached on what to say
  • Received threats to their family
  • Is unable to freely contact their friends or family

Some of the indicators that can help law enforcement identify signs of human trafficking include:

  • Unstable living situations
  • Individuals who are unable to leave where they live
  • Living conditions that involve unreasonable security measures
  • Individuals who are deprived of food or water

In regards to identifying children who may be victims of human trafficking, local law enforcement must remain alert for children who are traveling with someone that doesn’t appear to be their real parent or guardian (Department of Homeland Security, 2014).

According to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, law enforcement should ask several pertinent questions to help them determine if someone is a victim of human trafficking (Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 2014). These questions include:

  • How did you receive your job?
  • Who brought you into the country?
  • Who paid for your travel in the country?
  • Are you forced to do different work than what was promised?
  • Do you owe your employer money?
  • Do you live and work in the same place?
  • Is there anyone you are afraid of and why are you afraid of them?

One of the obstacles that law enforcement may experience while investigating cases of suspected human trafficking involves victims who are hesitant to reveal information out of fear of retribution. In addition, officers should consider that the victim may have Stockholm or Patty Hearst syndrome as a result of the victim’s dependency on the trafficker (Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 2014).

About the Author: Jarrod Sadulski is an adjunct professor at American Military University where he facilitates criminal justice courses. Sadulski has 16 years of experience in law enforcement, at both the federal and local level. He has been a member of a counter-narcotics task force led by the Miami Dade Police Department’s Narcotics Bureau. With the Coast Guard, he held a law enforcement supervisor position in Miami and has participated in several multi-agency human smuggling maritime interdiction operations Through these operations, Jarrod has been a part of a team who has intercepted smugglers attempting to enter the United States with undocumented immigrants. Sadulski has a master’s degree in criminal justice from American Military University, and is currently completing his doctorate in business management with a professional focus in criminal justice.


Allen, E. (2010). Domestic minor sex trafficking. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children . Retrieved from

Department of Homeland Security. (2014). Law enforcement. Retrieved from

Polaris Project. (2014). Human trafficking. Retrieved from

Polaris Project. (2014). Human trafficking is a problem 365 days a year. Retrieved from

Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. (2014). Resources: Screening tool for victims of human trafficking. Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Retrieved from

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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