DOJ Grant Funds Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force
The Department of Justice is awarding the St. Petersburg Police Department a grant to create the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force.
Task force plans began taking shape in May 2019, but the federal grant made it official. The grant is for $741,556 for three years.
Florida consistently ranks in the top three states for the number of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. This doesn’t necessarily there are more cases of human trafficking in the state, however.
When more resources are allocated to educating law enforcement agencies and the public about the signs of human trafficking, more calls tend to be made.
U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said the group is a collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies working with organizations that provide services to victims of human trafficking.
"Members of this task force work collectively to improve upon the detection, the investigation, the prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes, and the assistance of victims of human trafficking throughout the Tampa Bay area and beyond."
The number of human trafficking investigations in St. Petersburg increased to 11 in 2018 after a special unit was formed to address this issue. In 2014, there were four investigations. Most city and county law enforcement agencies in the bay area have formed trafficking-specific units or taskforces.
This grant will allow all of these agencies to pool resources and information.
“These traffickers are moving across city and county lines,” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway. “So we want to be able to share our information across city and county lines. We’re working toward the same goal of eradicating this problem from our community.”
Holloway said the new task force’s approach is three-pronged.
“The first one I talked about was educating the public and educating the officers. The second one was rescuing our victims," said Holloway. "And the third one is law enforcement is working together and sharing technology, being trained together, using techniques that can help us rescue our victims and also find our traffickers in within the Middle District.”
The geographic scope of the grant is within the Middle District of Florida and includes the following agencies:
Federal: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations.
State: Florida Office of the Attorney General, Office of Statewide Prosecution, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, State Attorneys’ Offices (Florida Judicial Circuits 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13th)
Local: Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Bradenton Police, Clearwater Police, Haines City Police, Palmetto Police, Sarasota Police, St. Petersburg Police, Tampa Police, Wauchula Police, and Zephyrhills Police.
Victim Service Provider: Selah Freedom
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the national hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. Here’s a reference guide for recognizing the signs.